In the United States, we waste about half our food. A lot of that waste happens because we expect our vegetables to look “perfect” and farmers can’t sell imperfect vegetables into supermarkets. Many times that food is left to rot in the fields, or is sent to landfill when it reaches market. Other waste is created because we don’t eat all we buy or because of overly-zealous expire-by dates on food and regulation that requires markets to throw expired food out even if it’s still good.
Food waste is directly related to climate change. There’s the wasted effort and fuel in growing and transporting the food, the wasted fertilizer, the wasted soil, and the CO2 and methane emissions of the food that ends up in landfill. It is estimated that food waste accounts for 8% of global emissions contributing to climate change.
Since January I have been on a mission to not waste food. I try to eat every single thing I buy. I’m getting most of my veggies this summer from a local farm via CSA which means I have to get creative about the dishes I make in order to use every last drop. I try to eat all my left overs and not buy things on impulse. It takes planning, but it’s doable and so far so good: I’ve thrown out very little food, and all my food scraps go into compost. (Cuts down on the garbage too!).
Food waste is one of the subjects artist Markus Jeschaunig has taken on in his effort to illustrate our relationship between human culture and environment. His piece Arc de Triomphe is constructed of stale bread, metal, wood, and concrete, with the bread collected over a period of weeks from waste bins and super markets which were getting ready to throw it out (the artist notes that no programs to feed the hungry were used as sources for the bread).
I love the symbolism in this piece: we think of bread as the “staff of life” and arches like the Arc de Triomphe as monuments to glorious epochs. But in this piece, we see bread as a symbol of our desire to have an infinite supply of food, no matter how much we waste, and the arch as a symbol of our consumer culture. We think we are in a glorious epoch of development, raising vast numbers of people out of poverty (so they can afford the bread they need and don’t go hungry) and yet, this arch of bread reminds us that in fact, the food we waste in this era of over supply and too much stuff is just one symptom of the affluent yet sick society we have built at the expense of the environment and on the backs of the people who suffer to keep the system running.
Markus Jeschaunig has many fascinating art works described on his web site which is well worth exploring.