Growing up in the rural plains of the Texas panhandle, I was familiar with many farm animals. There were several times when I knew or had at least seen the animal that became our meal. Some people don’t like that, but it gave me a great appreciation for food. Knowing that the animal gave its life so that we could be nourished raised the gravity of wasting this gift. Now that I live more disconnected from my food source in an urban lifestyle, it’s easier to forget this important lesson.
A recent study revealed a shocking situation in America. The average American household is wasting approximately $640 a year on groceries. This is only an estimated average, but it’s a startling number and focus on our collective waste.
We have become so complacent with our easy access to food that it doesn’t bother us to throw out about 30-40% of the food in the USA. Even from just a practical perspective, these numbers should shock us.
“In the United States, 31 percent—or 133 billion pounds—of the 430 billion pounds of the available food supply at the retail and consumer levels in 2010 went uneaten. The estimated value of this food loss was $161.6 billion using retail prices. For the first time, ERS estimated the calories associated with food loss: 141 trillion in 2010, or 1,249 calories per capita per day.”
– Study from the USDA: (Released in February 2014)
“Over 90% of Americans may be prematurely tossing food because they misinterpret expiration date.”
In the US, 14.3 percent (17.5 million households) were food insecure in 2013. This mean they had a difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members due to a lack of resources.
– USDA Report: Household Food Security in the United States in 2013
Waste is, by definition, the act of expending carelessly. It can be and expression of our failure to be grateful or failure to properly manage what has been entrusted to us.
In various instances when people are fed in Scripture, there is mention of caring for the leftovers. We also hear a persistent cry in the Gospels for our responsibility to the hungry and poor around us.
In a 2013 General Audience, Pope Francis spoke some vivid remarks about how consumerism has tainted our approach to food in richer, more-developed countries. Rocco Palmo has the translation of this audience.
“Consumerism has led us to become used to an excess and daily waste of food, to which, at times, we are no longer able to give a just value, which goes well beyond mere economic parameters. We should all remember, however, that the food we throw away is as if stolen from the table of the poor, the hungry! I encourage everyone to reflect on the problem of thrown away and wasted food to identify ways and means that, by seriously addressing this issue, are a vehicle of solidarity and sharing with the needy.”
– Pope Francis
Not only is it an issue of good stewardship of the resources that the Lord has gifted to us, it has weight against the injustices happening in the world right now.
“Consumerism has accustomed us to waste. But throwing food away is like stealing it from the poor and hungry.”
– Pope Francis
What You Can Do
For many of us, this has been a part of our culture, and we haven’t taken much time to consider the implications of this part of our lives. This issue is increasingly problematic, and we cannot ignore it any longer.
Here are a few practical steps you can do.
4 Steps to Prevent Food Waste
1. Think and Plan
Most of the waste in our homes comes from poor planning and preparation of the food we bring home from the store. Catholic Foodie and Paste Magazine recently shared some great tips and advice for curbing food waste at home. It takes effort, but ignoring this issue will not take care of itself.
2. Eat Mindfully
Food is such an essential part of the way God designed our bodies to be nourished, and it can be a great opportunity for pausing the progress of the day to enjoy your blessings. Mindfully preparing or ordering helps watch what you eat to prevent waste, but it is also important to maintain temperance to avoid gluttony. This is a delicate balance, but it’s part of the struggle in our contemporary Christian journey in America.
3. Save Food and Resources
We live in incredible times to be blessed with convenient appliances to store and reheat our food. Preventing waste will save more food and resources. We often feel like what has been entrusted to us as stewards is ours, but in the end, it’s all a gift from our generous Lord.
4. Support and Give
It is unjust for us to collectively waste at such dramatic levels while letting our brothers and sisters go hungry. There are various ways to support and feed the hungry in our area in service and donations.
Here is Austin, and in many other cities, there is a great program that seeks to save food from the dumpster. Keep Austin Fed is actively taking food that would otherwise be wasted and helping those in need.
The Society of St Vincent de Paul also helps feed, clothe, house, and heal our neighbors in need.
Mobile Loaves and Fishes is another local group feeding our hungry neighbors.
There are countless other ways to help, but complacency and indifference are not the options Christ calls us to take.
‘For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’