2020 has been a year of reckoning on multiple levels - a much needed wake up call for humanity. The past 12 months have finally cracked open our awareness to the problems that have been silently brewing under the surface for decades. So it is in this epic year that we, as humans, have been woke to all the harm that we have inflicted upon one another, ourselves, and the planet at large. For this, I am incredibly grateful.
It is only once we truly see the issues that we can actually act upon them.
Otherwise, it is too easy to ignore and continue our numbed existence.
I also believe that highly sensitive people (HSPs), those who have a heightened nervous system and can feel it all, have long been attuned to these crises but have felt utterly alone in our deep sadness over the state of the world. My wife, a fellow HSP, asserts that we are the ones actually feeling our way through the complexity of life on Earth.
It’s been humbling to witness the rise of food waste to the global stage this year even though it’s been a hot topic among inner circles for what seems like a lifetime. I oftentimes wonder how we reached such a state of disconnection with our food in that 1/3 of it is literally dumped in the trash. One third! That is insane. A calamity of epic proportion if you consider all of the inputs: land, water, energy, time, money, labor and most importantly, love. All of it discarded.
Hopefully, by understanding how we arrived at this number, we can begin to make small positive changes as individuals within a collective. After all, food waste is a bipartisan issue that we can all agree on; no one actually wants to waste food. Ever.
At some point along the way (specifically in the Industrial Food Revolution of the 50s after the World Wars), we, as Americans, lost our connection to food – to how it was grown, where it came from, and who produced it. Essentially, we lost our lifeline to the planet. And that disconnection, along with a notion of limitless abundance, became the tipping point for the start of food waste as we know it. “Oh, there’s plenty to go around,” “The grocery shelves will always be stocked” became normalized thought patterns (until March 2020 that is, when we learned that grocery scarcity can and does happen).
And with this, our behavior went from resourcefulness to one of privilege with the notion that any food will be available, any time of year, any time of day, with simply a click.
In America, the current issue is not about scarcity; it's about abundance of cheaply produced, unhealthy food.
Think about peasant cultures where cooking is an act of great respect. Where every part of the plant or animal is fully utilized; the sacrifice of those once living ingredients is not ignored. Again, born from a sense of appreciation for the natural world and the slow process of preparing food. The creativity that arises from this mindset is immense - from delicious preserved foods like pickles or cured meats, to ricotta made from cheese making byproduct -and actually elevates the culinary experience.
Usually because of scarcity (for example, times of war and famine), these populations took on a use-it-up mentality. But in America, the current issue is not about scarcity; it's about abundance of cheaply produced, unhealthy food.
If we look at a simple inverted triangle that portrays the food waste hierarchy, the very top rung is prevention – the very best solution to anything! My area of interest lies here, in educating others how to make incremental changes to their mindsets that lead to small actions that in turn, help fight food loss from the outset. Prevention also stops the hierarchy right there, averting food scraps that would otherwise travel on the chain toward disposal.
This work lights me up and I have seen the power that comes from showing people new ways to shop, store or cook ingredients that are small victories for their health, their budgets, and the environment. Like selecting slightly bruised or damaged produce that would otherwise get thrown out, understanding that products can live well beyond their 'sell by' dates, or utilizing the magical pause button of food waste that is the freezer. Maybe even trying the European system of shopping for fresh produce every few days to cut back on waste.
Going forward, the only way out of this devastating crisis is for us humans to wake up to the value of our food and treat it with the reverence it deserves by spending more time in our kitchens.
We are in a time of massive abundance but what we need most is to view food through a new lens - and that means sometimes paying more for it to avoid handing your money over to the healthcare industry down the road.
We must wake up to the value of our food and treat it with the reverence it deserves by spending more time in our kitchens.
Remember, every single one of us can have a profound impact. It begins with emotional connection and acknowledging our relation to this planet. Being a highly sensitive person can be a tremendous challenge in today's overstimulated world but really, feeling deeply is the only way we will be able to change our world for the better.