Capitalism, Food Waste and Community

'Rotting Compost Food Macro March 01, 20113' photo (c) 2011, Steven Depolo - license:

One of the things I am most likely to harp on my family about is food waste.  First, it is an absolute waste of money, and second it is absolutely disrespectful to the environment. When I think of food, I think of the resources that were spent growing it, slaughtering it, transporting it, and finally cooking it.  So much happens to food before it hits the plate.

Whenever I can, I try to turn left overs into a new meal, or I turn fruit that is about to go off, into some sort of baked good.  Yesterday was family day in Canada, which btw is the reason why the posting was light.  We spent the day together, which began with me turning bananas, which were singing, swing low sweet chariot into banana pancakes.  The kids were horrified when they saw the shape that the bananas were in.  They were soft and brown, and clearly in their mind beyond the ability to consume.  They looked hopefully at the compost, but I knew that added to a little batter, they would make the perfect pancakes. In the end, they were thrilled with breakfast, and felt like I had done something really special for them.

Each time I do something like this, we have a discussion about the importance of not wasting food.  Destruction pointed out that their grandmother, always cooked at home, and never ordered out. I have noticed that we are throwing out a lot of mashed potatoes, and so now I am looking for a recipe that the family will enjoy to turn them into potato cakes.  I think I have found one by Paula Deen, but I will of course have to reduce some of the fat.

I think that the ability to waste, is one of the privileges that goes unremarked upon.  We have such an extremely disposable society, that many will not think twice about the waste they produce, or what it does to the earth.  In terms of food, just because I can afford to waste, does not make it the moral or appropriate thing to do. All of us need to eat to survive, and yet when we reach a certain class position, this need is treated very cavalierly. The ability to waste has become a sign that one has arrived, so to speak.

I am not a dumpster diver, but because we live in a tourist town, I am highly aware of the waste that comes from the multiple hotels and restaurants.  There is a restaurant in town which regularly throws out perfectly edible sandwiches.  For a time, there were people diving into their dumpster at the end of the day to take these sandwiches.  When it was discovered what was happening, the restaurant placed a lock on the dumpster.  This happened sometime ago, and yet every time I walk past this restaurant, I experience a wave of disgust.  Not only have they placed a lock on the dumpster, staff is not allowed to take these sandwiches home.  Basically, if they can’t make a profit, then no one is allowed to eat. I know that this phenomenon is not unique to them. 

Part of the reason that this bothers me so much, is because there is a lot of hidden hunger in this city.  I live around the corner from a soup kitchen, and towards the end of the month, when disability checks, and welfare payments have run out, the lines are incredibly long.  I have come to recognize certain families, as I see them walk by my house, night after night, children and grandparents in tow. I am thankful that they have some place to go, but I cannot help but think about the how the waste that is produced, would help ease the burden on the soup kitchen.  The sandwiches in particular, would be great to put in lunches for the kids.  In our area, there is no such thing as school lunch, and all food must be provided from home.  If these parents cannot afford dinner for their families, what are the chances they can afford lunch for their kids?

With spring approaching, I know that my house will once again be turned into a soup kitchen of sorts. The kids spend a lot of time at the park, and have been known to bring home a group of kids for drinks, snacks and even lunch. At times it feels like I am working a production line, as I cut up fruit, make sandwiches and pour juice.  I don’t have a problem with this, because I believe that food is something that we should never ever begrudge anyone, and this is particularly true when it comes to children.  The kids in the neighbourhood know that I will always feed them.

Food should be a communal experience, because it is something that we all need to consume to survive, and yet it has become a marker between the haves and the have nots.  It’s about so much more than who can afford the good cuts of meat anymore.  Food has become a divider of people, with many convinced that their need out weighs those who have less. 

I am convinced that my attitude towards food is a direct reflection of my mother.  For her, cooking and feeding us was more than a necessity, it was a display of love.  It is something that I appreciate to this day and attempt to show my own children, though I am at times I am hampered with my disability. Eating my mothers cooking, I learned to appreciate food, and to see it as a communal experience.  This is what is missing in so many ways today. Our separation from food, is one example of the anomie that has become pervasive.  Eating together means time to share, but our lives have become so busy that this has become a rarity, instead of the norm.  No wonder we don’t have any connection to each other anymore. In my home, dinner will always mean no computers, television, or phone calls.  It means our time to share with each other.

I respect food because it nourishes my body, it can can function as a symbol of my love, and most importantly, it brings people together.  The idea of wasting a resource that can do so much for us disgusts me in so many ways.  The ability to waste food, is encouraged by capitalism because it has been commodified, and like so many things that capitalism has touched, we are not better for it. 

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