Wasted food, wasted money

Did you see the Hot Dog Eating Contest on the TV?  The guy ate more than 70 hot dogs, and became the champion.

When I saw it, my first impression was:  what a waste of food and money!  Can we donate those hot dogs to the kids in the schools?

My second impression was: where are the table manners?  I’m not saying they should use forks and knives for hot dogs.  But the folks were just gobbling, and wiping their greasy hands on their shirts.  The scene is really not pretty.

This is something I can’t understand.  Why having a competition for food eating?  Can we do something healthier, like jogging, swimming, etc.?  What kind of message are we sending to the young kids?  Is it okay to waste the food, or even abuse the food?

I wonder why the health care premium keeps going up.  It’s partly because some people ate too many hot dogs.

How much food is being wasted every year world-wide?  According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, about one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption gets lost or wasted every year.  That is approximately 1.3 billion tonnes, or 2.8 trillion in pounds.

The world population today is about 7.6 billion.  So on average, each person wastes 368 pounds annually.  That would be about 1 pound daily for one person.  It includes the waste at home, restaurants, grocery stores, food processing places, etc.

Are we really doing that bad?  I’m not sure.  Hopefully not.

Food wasted at home

I feel guilty that, some of the food is wasted at my home, as well.

A bag of salad is always a struggle.  Usually only half of the bag was consumed as salad.  I try to stir fry the rest after several days.  Sometimes I didn’t pay attention, and the half bag got spoiled.  Throwing away food is a bad feeling.  I hate to see the food and money wasted.

I grew up in a remote village in northern China in mid 1960s.  The food scarcity was real, and lasted for the first 16 years of my life.  The first time I tasted an apple was probably at the age of 6.  Life was very tough then.

During my 2-year high school, the yellow-corn bread was the staple food for most of the meals.  It looked ugly, and tasted horrible.  My classmates and I felt hungry most of the time.  Please check my eBook, a memoir, “Dad’s Bicycle” about the life in China then.

Like many others, my family just ate whatever was available, and made full use of it.  Growing up, I learnt that, food was precious.

The good byproduct of the food scarcity was:  I got an excellent appetite, and really enjoy the good food.  Can I count eating as one of my hobbies?

The food wasting is a learnt behavior to me.  It didn’t start until many years later.  I lived in Beijing for 15 years, first as an undergraduate and graduate student, then as an engineer.  Not sure when, I started not taking the food that seriously.  The food was tossed away as trash without hesitation, if I didn’t like it, or it was not that fresh anymore.  A lot of money was wasted that way.

This behavior continued and became probably worse after I came to US.  I blame myself for it.

Much is related to the labeled expiration dates.  This is always a struggle.  If the expiration date is yesterday, should I continue using it, or just throw it away?  This applies to bread, milk, cheese, sugar, canned food, ingredients, etc.  That might be tens of dollars thrown away every month.  And they add up.

For eggs, I ignore the expiration date.  Why?  I grew up in a country.  My mom raised hens, and I helped picking up those warm and precious eggs.  As a family, we never wrote down when the egg was produced.  It’s never a question if the egg was expiring.  So my old habit stayed.  As long as the egg smells fresh after its cracking, I’m okay with it.

Luckily the leftovers of my cooked food don’t have expiration dates.  How nice!  I just use the common sense, and eat most of them.

What I’m trying to do now is to shop consciously.  Before the grocery run, check my refrigerator and the pantry thoroughly.  Use those first.  Make sure the items and quantity on the shopping list are really what I need.

Food wasted in the restaurants and other places

I love eating the buffet.  Usually go for lunch, as it’s cheaper and has more than enough varieties.  It’s Chinese style most of the time, and American style sometimes.  Every time I was there, I saw some people left some food untouched on the plates, and went to get something else.

In 1996, I was an MBA student in Ashland, Ohio, a lovely college town.  I was working at the student cafeteria of the Ashland University.  It was a buffet style for all the meals.  The food was excellent.  At the end of each meal, when cleaning up the tables, I saw the one-foot sub was only consumed 20%.  A lot of food was left on the tables.

There was one thing that puzzled me.  The big ice machine was cleaned up at the end of every single day.  All the left ice cubes were dumped to the big sink.  Not only that, the boiled water was poured to the ice cubes, just to let them melt faster.  What a waste of energy and resources!  Are ice cubes getting spoiled next day?  I doubt about that.

The food waste happens in China, too.  In the last couple of years, the government was restricting the food consumption using the money of government or corporations.  It was a good move, and reduced the food waste.  When spending from their own pockets, consumers become more responsible.

Before those government rules were in place, it was astonishing.  People used the government or corporate money to show off their status, and brag about their wealth.  Tons of food and alcohol was thrown away from the high-end restaurants.

My last point is what I observed in the US sports.  After a big bowl or playoff game for US football, what did you see?  Some winning players poured a big bucket of Gatorade to the head of their beloved coach.  For the baseball games, the winning players were shooting the bottles of champagne to each other.

Yes, it’s a huge win, and deserves lots of celebrations.  But, Gatorade and champagne are drinks, and kind of expensive.  That’s money.  Can they replace it with just plain water?  Plus it’s easier to wash those water-soaked clothes later.  That’s just my two-cents.

Here are the questions:  does your family eat leftovers?  What do you do about the expired grocery, keep using them or toss them?

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8 Responses

  1. Bob says:

    We are definitely on the same page about food waste. I grew up in on a farm in the midwest and food was never really a problem that I remember. We raised cattle and would butcher one every year, so had plenty of high quality meat. We were far from wealthy but always had food. It hasn’t been until the last 10 years or so that I have started to really pay attention to not wasting food. Good article.
    Keep up the good work!

    • Retire Early Helen says:

      Thank you, Bob. I’m sure the meat in the grocery store is not that great as you had from your own cattle. One time, I was working at a bank inside a grocery store. The bank used the store’s dumpster. The produce was thrown away as a daily routine. Quite a lot of waste.

  2. Caroline says:

    As a kid, in France, I spent a lot of time with my great aunt who lived thru both wars, her motto was “Nothing in the garbage” and she meant it. This has stuck with me and anytime we waste I feel so guilty! We usually have one night a week where we have frittata , quiche or fried rice and I use the little bit of everything that is left in the fridge.
    My kids laugh at me sometimes because I will keep eating some stuff after the expiry date (sometimes I really stretch it and then I wonder why I don’t feel so good!). It is not about the money, I just can’t stand the waste.

    • Retire Early Helen says:

      Great story, Caroline. Yeah, I hate to see food wasted. Some packages are too big, like a bag of hot dog buns has 8. It only lasts for one week. For a family of two, we can never finish the 8 buns in one week. Wish there were smaller packages. Also the expiration dates drove me nuts.

  3. GYM says:

    I don’t like to waste food too. I’m lucky my husband doesn’t mind eating leftovers. I can eat leftovers for days. There is definitely a lot of wastage in North American society! 🙁

    • Retire Early Helen says:

      My family eats leftovers, too. Like the turkey on Thanksgiving, I usually freeze the leftover, and use them later. It saves some time, and money.

  4. I live on leftovers!

    I actually monitor my food pretty thoroughly. I like you find it very sad when I see food that has been barely touched wasted. I think this mentality was further developed when I began working in Washington D.C.. I take the train to work every morning, but I still have to take about a 10 minute walk to get to my building. During that walk, I go by many homeless individuals on the way. Seeing the conditions that these people live in daily, and the struggles they go through just to eat everyday ingrained into me a humbling mentality in regards to my food. Food isn’t a guarentee in this world, and so many of us take it for granted. I always eat every last thing on my plate (even every rice grain) and I always save what I don’t consume.

    Thanks you for sharing this!

    • Retire Early Helen says:

      Sean,
      Thank you for sharing your thought. I agree, “Food isn’t a guarantee in this world”. There are still some people who are unfortunately hungry daily. Appreciating the food makes us feel good, content, and happy.

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