Lately, I've been experimenting with a new cookbook. That means that I've been cooking up new recipes, and that means that I've been doing some additional grocery shopping recently. As anyone who does the grocery shopping for their family already knows, food costs are an ever increasing part of the family budget.
In Mason County, there are a number of projects that work in tandem to help combat the problems of high food costs, nutritional deficiencies and lack of food availability. There are the free and reduced lunches and breakfasts up at Mason I.S.D. The Mason County Ministerial Alliance maintains a very successful food bank program which has received great support from the community. And, the Community Kitchen project prepares "ready to heat" casseroles for families who don't have the time to prepare healthy, low cost meals.
All of this is ironic when one considers that we are also a nation that suffers from an obesity epidemic. Of course, that is a result of many different elements, including overeating and consuming high fat, high calorie, low nutritive meals, all combined with sedentary lifestyles that lead to increased weight gain and all the associated diseases of obesity.
I started down this path of thinking over the weekend when I heard a news report concerning high food costs. The folks doing the research on the costs of meals discovered something very interesting as they interviewed participants in their study - the same people that were complaining about the high costs of their food also reported an incredible amount of food waste.
That led the researchers to begin looking at the issue of food waste, and they discovered that American households, on average, discard 20% of all the food they purchase. That means that they discard the last few bites of the burger they ordered and they throw away a few remaining French fries. They throw away the last part of the meatloaf they prepared on Tuesday, and ate as leftovers on Wednesday. They go through the refrigerator and throw out lunch meat that is old, milk that has gone bad and vegetables that have turned soft.
Imagine a household that spends $600 a month on groceries and dining. If that household is average, they will waste $120 of that food before it ever has a chance to enhance their nutrition needs.
I'm just as guilty as anyone else about contributing to this waste. When I get home, I toss out fruit and vegetables that are no longer fresh and presentable. I pour out milk and juice that has gone bad. I thow away the moldy bread. I toss packages from the freezer that have allowed the contents to ice over or to burn.
Head up to the school cafeteria on just about any day and look at how much food the kids leave on their trays. Look around you in any restaurant and see how much food people leave on their plates as they step away from the table. Look at your own garbage and see just how much food you have wasted on a daily basis.
Part of the problem is portion control. We expect our plates to be overflowing with food at every meal; but, our guilt kicks in and we fail to finish everything that's on our plates. We want to feel that we're getting the best deal for our money when we eat out at restaurants which mean that those establishments have to serve bigger portions to keep us happy. And, our Southern gentility kicks in and we leave "a bit on the plate."
If we're to ever achieve any balance, we need to start determining how much food we really need, and only purchase it in smaller amounts. Unlike our ancestors, we have ample foodstuffs available whenever we want to go shopping. There is no need to purchase more than we can adequately store for an appropriate amount of time. And, every recipe offers up number of servings, which should be our guide to preparing our own meals.
The solutions are never simple; but, they are obtainable. We can save money, improve our health, and help alleviate hunger. And, we will do it one step at a time.
It’s all just my opinion.