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So Colombians throw some 9.76 million tonnes of food in the rubbish bin each year. That’s over 200 kilograms per person, if it were divided equally, which of course it isn’t (witness the country’s many homeless scavenging through bins as proof of that).
Obviously enough, such food waste isn’t unique to here, it happens across the globe, especially and unsurprisingly among those who aren’t staring at bare plates on a regular basis — if they have plates at all that is. Yet it should hit home more in countries such as Colombia where the sight of malnourished and starving people is never too far away.
The thought of binning food brings me back to my younger days. When my siblings and I were reluctant to finish a meal we were given, our mother, in her bid to make us eat up, would say ‘think of the starving children in Africa’. Although it was said in good faith, the strategy was pretty useless all the same. It wasn’t like the already prepared food we didn’t eat was going to be of any help to those starving in Africa and elsewhere. Indeed, as my brother used to cheekily say, he was refusing to eat as a symbolic gesture to those deprived.
It took a few years for us to truly understand the point of our mother’s message, even if it wasn’t and isn’t of any practical help to the people actually in need of the food: we should be grateful that we have something to eat.
However, many of us appear not to be grateful, going by the waste figures above.
Alongside immediately dumping good leftovers in the bin, you’ve got the commonplace practice of storing cooked food in the fridge or wherever with the idea of consuming it at a later date. In my experience, in my ongoing house-sharing years I’ve found that this rarely sees the light of day again — well only when it’s being dumped after acquiring some sort of new biological culture. Come on guys, give me the leftovers and I’ll gladly scoff them down — save money and cooking time.
It must be pointed out here that when you’re buying food only for yourself or just a few other adults, limiting waste is, or at least should be, a little easier. It gets somewhat trickier when you’re feeding children, as I experienced when helping to look after my nephews last year. I had guidelines to follow but it was either a case of the less common ‘we haven’t enough’ or the more usual ‘we’ve too much/we don’t want any more’ (yet, funnily enough, there was always room for sugar-laden delights). After a while I just put on less for me, let the lads eat, and then take their leftovers, which would normally suffice.
It all pretty much aligns itself with my current practice of eating to hunger rather than the clock (breakfast excepted) and/or taking small portions; try to eat well, but not to excess.
Private food waste aside, it is in the public domain — fast food outlets, restaurants and the like — where, arguably, you have the biggest culprits in this regard. You can’t blame the businesses in question entirely. If their customers leave behind grub, too ‘proud’ to ask for a doggy bag as you’ll often see, what can they do about it? Dishing out smaller portions is one solution anyway — that’d do a good few already well-fed people no harm at all.
The idea isn’t that we should all return to a subsistence existence, although at our current consumption rates for a range of finite resources that mightn’t be such a bad thing. It’s more a case of us being a little more efficient in both cooking and eating. A situation where we’re binning perfectly good — or what once was perfectly good but was just left to waste — food should never arise.
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