‘Hang on,’ he said. ‘I’ll only be a minute. I just need to get a carrot.’ I know I heard him correctly but I figured something must have been lost in translation. Who goes into his local greengrocers and buys just one carrot? But he came out with just that – a single carrot. When I asked, somewhat incredulously, why he had just bought one carrot, his answer was simple: ‘I just needed one.’ Duh!
A few days later, in my local greengrocers, a well-heeled man in front of me was buying two eggs. I looked on in something just shy of amazement as this perfectly groomed epitome of corporate success carefully placed both eggs in his hand-tooled leather briefcase, knotted his cashmere scarf, and paid, in cash, for his purchase. Who buys just two eggs, I wanted to ask, but didn’t.
Last week, I was at a pig killing. In just under five hours, 158 kg of live pork had been butchered with not a gram of waste. The entrails went to feed to wild boar in the local forest. The meat cuts were sectioned into manageable parcels. The innards were boiled and then added to rice and spices to make kolbász, liver and blood sausage. Looking down at the vat of cooked mush, the various bits and pieces were pointed out to me to sample – the ear, the kidney, the liver, the nose. Every last piece of the pig was accounted for. Not a bit wasted.
Then yesterday, I looked at my vegetable box and saw a half-rotted pepper, a slightly blackened head of cabbage, and some mushrooms that were boasted more wrinkles than an octogenarian sun worshiper. They were sitting atop a none-too-yellow lemon, a shrivelled courgette, and a squishy tomato. I opened my ‘fridge and saw three items long past their use-by dates. I went to the pantry and a quick survey of my cans and jars revealed a five-year supply of Worcestershire sauce, red wine vinegar, and salt.
I don’t have Armageddon leanings. I’m not a hoarder. And while I like to have a back-up bottle of washing-up liquid and an extra shampoo to hand, and my equilibrium is quickly upset if I run out of loo roll, I really have to get a handle on this food waste.
Globally, about one third of food produced for human consumption is discarded annually. One third. That’s a lot. Too much. ‘Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes).’ Organisations like the Hungarian Food Bank rescue food from retailers and restaurants – food that is about to pass its sell-by date – and distribute it to over 300 000 needy souls in the country. And at an organisational level, that works.
But I’m not an organisation.
I can’t for the life of me figure out why I feel the need to stock up every time I go to the supermarket. I plan meals days in advance knowing full well that those plans are subject to the whims of others and the vagaries of time. I have a trolley-load of shops within carrying distance of my kitchen so it’s not like any special effort on my part is required. I could go every day. No problem. But for some reason, I see this as a waste of time, preferring to make the pilgrimage once a week. And the result? Pure, unadulterated waste.
But balancing a perceived waste of time against an actual waste of produce, there’s really no argument, is there? Duh!
First published in the Budapest Times 9 January 2015