How Will We Eat When the Pandemic Is Over?

Your approach to food may have changed in the past few weeks. Mine has. Before the pandemic I could demolish a jar of Planter’s peanuts in a few days. Now I make it last more than a week. I was used to fixing myself a mid-morning snack or a second breakfast, but I haven’t done that in weeks. The biggest meal I’ve had in over a month was Easter dinner, and even then I probably ate only about two-thirds of what I might otherwise have eaten.

One reason for the change, to be frank, is to conserve TP. But I’m not as hungry because I’m not as active and not burning as many calories. I also really want to stretch our food supply so that I don’t have to make as many trips to the supermarket.

The health-related risks that we, especially those of us who have reached senior-citizen status, now incur in the supermarket make us think twice about our food purchases. How can I plan and execute my purchases, with the flexibility needed because some items may not be available when I go, to make my food purchases stretch as far as possible without hoarding? Will I then plan and prepare my meals carefully so as to avoid wasting it once I get it home?

That got me thinking of food waste in broader terms. (That, and Tatiana Schlossberg’s book, Inconspicuous Consumption) For the past several years, and even in the past few months, major news outlets such as the BBC, the New York Times, and the Washington Post have published articles on the connection between food waste and climate change. They all cite an alarming statistic: Globally between thirty and forty percent of food is wasted. “If food loss and waste were its own country, it would be the world’s third-largest [greenhouse gas] emitter—surpassed only by China and the United States.” (Source: World Resources Institute)

Some food waste occurs before the food even leaves the fields where it is grown. Fruits and vegetables that are less than perfect are left in the field to decompose. I’ve picked produce as a volunteer at a local urban farm and I’ve dropped blemished peppers, strawberries, and tomatoes on the ground because they won’t sell at the farm’s markets (although I have taken some home, with the farm’s knowledge and permission). Some food is discarded by the stores or restaurants that purchase it because it has become unfit to sell or serve. I’ve passed over bruised fruit in the supermarket many times. Some food, such as bagged lettuce, packaged meat, or milk is discarded because the sell-by date has passed. Some food goes to waste in our refrigerators either before we get a chance to prepare it or after we prepare it and we forget about the leftovers.

Would you buy this strawberry?

Does the pandemic offer us an opportunity to think more carefully about food and food waste? Eventually the pandemic will end. Retail food supplies will stabilize and we’ll go back to a more casual approach to grocery shopping. But can we hold back from resuming that casual approach? Can we carry forward the more deliberate approach that we’ve developed in this moment of emergency? Can we plan and execute our food shopping trips and our food preparation and consumption to reduce the amount of food we waste?

Asking if we can do things like putting a blemished apple or a misshapen pepper in our carts may be a bridge too far. I understand the hesitation when a single bruised apple or pear might still cost $1.00 or more. But maybe not. There are businesses that offer produce that’s less than perfect but edible and affordable. Imperfect Foods and Missfits Market both deliver in New Jersey. City Saucery makes tomato sauce from imperfect produce. Do you have sources for imperfect produce that you can share? Leave a comment.

On the local retail front, maybe if enough consumers got together, grocery stores and other produce vendors might offer some of their less-than-perfect wares at reduced prices as well.

The real struggle, though, will be over what we do with leftovers and food that we can’t use because it’s gone bad or it’s well past its “sell by” date. We’ll look at some of those concerns in a future post.

For now, though, you’ve probably already rethought your approach to food because of the COVID-19 pandemic. If you have modified that approach in such a way that is better for the environment, for the local community, or for your family or neighbors, please share what you’ve done and how you will carry that practice forward when the pandemic ends. May you and those close to you stay well and may you have peace in these trying circumstances.

Thanks as always for stopping by.


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