At that first Hallmark jingle or upon seeing a faint blur of red and white, we are reminded, unfortunately in mid-September; that the holiday season will be upon us soon.
We are given all possible excuses to shop, to cook, to indulge, to gift, to save and scrimp only so that we can spend later. Be it Halloween, Eid, Diwali, Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanza, or any other derivative of the numerous ‘special holidays.’ We have various opportunities to recognize that we, as individuals and as people have the power to commune, to appreciate, to honor and to give. We have the ability to contribute and participate in our communities. And how do we do it? Poorly; allow me to elaborate.
Over the last few months, I received several e-mails about collection drives for canned food. They are worthy causes. There is a genuine need and many people in our community are fortunate to have the ability to fulfill these needs. And yet, sometimes, ‘giving’ is taken for granted where giving becomes the event and the true meaning of it eludes some of those who participate in it.
Each time I drop off cans – I am reminded of how many people exist in the rest of the world, who do not have enough to eat. While one has excess, another is in dire need. I grew up in Mumbai, India, a city and a country that has more than its fair share of poverty induced hunger. I saw hunger and desperation up close – too close. And I have seen gluttony too, not just in India, but here too. Adults and children in many underdeveloped countries are forced to eat scraps, leftovers and stale meals because it a far better alternative, to starving. Can you imagine living a life just to ensure that ones’ family is fed and able to survive? A life where education is secondary, having health-benefits at a job is tertiary and having a roof above ones’ head, civic respect or access to recreation - a luxury? One study estimated that in the entire world, one child dies due to hunger or starvation every five seconds. The numbers are mind-numbing.
To appreciate how this problem hits home, here in the USA, one in six Americans is ‘food insecure.’ According to the USDA, "Food security for a household means that all household members have access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life." Yet, the EPA estimated that in 2009, food scraps represented the second largest percentage of waste produced in the country, at a staggering 14 percent, second only to paper products. Food waste is also bad for the environment – it creates 21 times more methane gas emissions than other items in the landfills. Unfortunately, a vast majority of the US population does not see this. We buy in excess, over-indulge in cheap and poorly made foods, and throw out on an average about thirty four million tons of food, everyday.
Although in the US, a higher percentage of food waste occurs before it even gets to the table. It is estimated that in 2004, 14-15 percent of edible food in the US is untouched, unopened and is discarded. It amounts to $43 billion wasted. On average, it is also estimated that 93 percent of our population is guilty of purchasing food products that they will never use. In our present state of economy, we too are contributing to the waste of our own monies. If we do not waste food, perfectly good edible food could be made accessible to ‘food insecure’ Americans.
Another dimension of this food crisis is what happens with our children in our homes, schools and our communities. Rampant childhood obesity, binge eating, anorexia and starvation coexist. While some children have access to more calories than are healthy for them others go hungry on days there is no school. The key is to start young, as good habits and social responsibility are best learned at an early age. But outside of home, this has to be a collective community effort too. Children are in the care of the school environment eight hours a day, for thirty six weeks! This is such a significant chunk of time – a time that can create a world of a difference, even if parents and educators take baby steps at influencing a change of mindset. The ‘Want not-Waste Not’ ethic must be reinforced: be it for school supplies, or paper and especially food. Having a ‘recycling’ policy or a one-person committee is not enough to address the challenges of large institutions. While lawmakers haggle over the correct amount of tomato sauce on a pizza served at school lunches and debate about its standing as an entire serving of vegetables, there is no accountability towards the mounds of food each child throws away at a school lunch table. So much food makes it to the large trash. Our vulnerable children occupy elementary and secondary / middle school lunchrooms with little or no guidance towards developing a sense of responsibility or appreciation towards what they receive. Nutritional food is ‘offered’ without further guidance – thus missing the last link, causing children to subconsciously believe they don’t really need to be responsible for the food that comes to their plate.
Everything, including generosity and respect begins at home. When the next time a meal comes to your table, ask yourself, what did it take to get from the farm to your plate? Once consumed, how is it going to nourish you? If it took bazillion hours to process is it really food or is it a food-like product? Will it ever be useful to your body? Without loading up your plate or being morbid, ask yourself what would happen if you had to fight a neighbor for nourishment or if you were not going to be able to eat for a few days? What would you do if everything that came to your plate – came with a price beyond the cost of the meal? Now, look at your plate again. Whether or not you are on a diet, have been starving or have been bingeing, are at a holiday party or at a food event – this will make you think again.
This is a nation of supersize. Yes, we have created a supersized monster too but a problem that we can kill on the very feet it stands on. We CAN: develop a social and food consciousness, reduce food wastage, limit reliance on the over commercialized cheaply available and nutritionally inept eats, prevent the slow death of the small farm, curb the brewing of a culture that routinely accepts rhetoric versus making a conscious choice, eliminate complacence towards allowing legislative banter to govern how ones’ dinner tables are set, stop the abandonment of small and local for large and cheap. We CAN ask: how can our cities help create consumer friendly resources for backyard composting? Does our city need a curbside food collection program for food scraps so that it can be converted to usable compost? Will people participate? Of course! We as consumers have the ability to make change, let us try a little harder.