I really shouldn’t have thrown out those peppers

This isn’t really a scientist post, but it is an interesting topic to me.  According to several studies and two recent articles in The New York Times, the US is throwing out almost a quarter of its food.  Not only that, but donations to food banks are already down 9% (clearly the recession is already making us see to ourselves).  The Times articles also linked me to an interesting blog on wasted food.  All these articles are accompanied by pictures of things thrown away.  Because the apple has a bad section (guilty…), the yogurt sat out for a few hours and is all icky and warm (guiltier…), and because the one edge of the cheese was bad (due to my extreme obsession with cheese, I am not guilty of this one).

It all reminded me of just after high school, when I was travelling cross country on a bus with 20-something other high school students, researching ecological sustainability and visiting many national parks on the way (I went in 2000, but the ’98 trip still has a website floating out there in the ether).  I’m not one of those people who takes a lot of pictures, and so now many of the amazing things I saw and experiences I had are receeding into memory.  But this article called up one thing in particular.  We were in Kansas having just visited the Kansas Land Institute, which is a really awesome place to go, by the way.  It’s a grain farm based on sustainable farming, trying to grow grasses in a prairie form rather than a single monoculture.  Not only is it a very interesting way to investigate possible solutions to the problems of monoculture (the need for large amounts of pesticides, fertilizer, etc), it’s a very pretty place to go.  Afterward, we visited a regular monoculture wheat field, and spend several hours playing in the wheat.  I remember telling my AP Biology teacher’s kids stories (who’s never heard the Princess and the Pea?  Honestly), and the light making everything amber and beautiful.  We also all got a bag of wheat, that if you chew for a while, turns all gluey. 

I think it was on the way back (memory fails me here), or possibly it was near the place where we camped (in a public park).  I remember seeing a huge white lump in the distance.  It was obviously plastic.  We got a chance to ask someone what it was.  It was wheat.  And it was HUGE.  More than a half a mile long, and wide as a football field, a huge plastic covered towering pile of WHEAT.  It was there pretty much for nothing, in a kind of long term storage.  The farmers couldn’t sell it, and for some reason they were unable to send it to another country for aid.  So it was just there, a huge pile of food, painstakingly produced with pesticides and fertilizer, and then left to rot. 

Now this was back in 2000.  Part of me wonders if that wheat is still there, all boiling hot on the inside from decomposition, or if something finally happened to it.  But it makes me wonder more if there are still piles of wheat out there, or piles of corn, sitting in the midwest United States while people in other countries riot over high food prices.  And I’m not throwing out my apples.  I can eat around the bad spots.

One Response

  1. this is so interesting to me because it’s almost the opposite in my house. as much as i do like to stockpile food, i hardly ever throw things out…to the extent that, when i drive to my parents’ house for a few weeks, i actually clean out any perishable fruits/veg from my fridge and bring them home. even if there’s just a little food left on my plate at a restaurant, i’ll ask for a takeout box and make meals out of it.

    my friends of course, see that, and go “god, you’re SO asian!” and then roll their eyes. this would be one of those times where i’m glad that i was raised in a home with parents who were refugees as kids–we don’t believe in throwing stuff out!

    good post though…they should have taken all that wheat and made some BEER.

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