Food For Thought: Becoming a Conscious Consumer

Sep 10, 2015 | Conscious living, Food, Garden

We spend a lot of time here discussing spiritual concepts, personal growth and development, and the nature of reality, but this blog was founded originally as a lifestyle blog. I mentioned in an earlier blog post that I wanted to start focusing more on how to incorporate all of the principles that we learn into our daily lives.

As spiritual people, we have become more aware of ourselves, as people, and some of us are even becoming more aware of the world around us. The culmination of those things generally involves connecting the dots between ourselves and that world and realizing how connected we are to it and its problems, and ultimately how it’s problems are simply an external reflection of our own inner-conflicts.

Part of the reason that the world is in the state that it’s in today is because in our state of fearful living, we have created a scarcity mentality. We worry that there’s not enough to go around, and many of us seem to focus inherently on what we don’t have.

Efficiency is an inherent part of my personality. I like to get the most and make the most out of everything… and stretching dollars happens to fall into that category. It’s not that I believe there’s not enough. I just believe in value and not wasting things. I see potential there – of making more out of what is already there… which is, in reality, an abundance mindset.

One of my biggest pet peeves is food waste. Maybe it’s a habit I picked up from spending so much time with my great grandmother as a child, who lived through the Great Depression. She never wasted ANYTHING. Plastic forks and spoons, styrofoam plates, and tin cans were all washed and reused.

It’s really difficult for me to reconcile how 16.2 million children right here in America struggle with hunger on any given day, while other Americans consistently throw out 40% of the food produced.  That’s 1,400 calories per person, per year and 1,400 calories that could have sustained one of those 16.2 million (1 in 5) American children. Dollar wise, our food waste tallies up to about $400 per person, per year.

That’s right. You’re throwing $400 in the trash or down your garbage disposal every year.

You might be thinking that it’s probably restaurants who are the biggest wasters of that food. But you’d be wrong. It’s you. And me. And your neighbors. And everyone one else.

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Worldwide, it’s estimated estimated that one-third to a half of all food is wasted — despite estimates that 870 million people are undernourished.

For some companies, like Monsanto, the answer is to attempt to produce as much food as possible on the amount of land we currently have to “feed the world.” At least that’s how they market it to you.

But what happens when 40% of what’s produced is just getting thrown away? I haven’t even mentioned the impact this has on the environment and the strain it puts on our resources.

We don’t have a food deficiency problem. We have a food EFFICIENCY problem.

We are either over-producing, or underutilizing… or both. Add to that equation the fact that a lot of that food is probably going to waste because the people who need it can’t afford to buy it.

This is such a huge problem – as many of the problems in the world are, and it’s overwhelming for an individual person to think about. How can little ole’ you stop world hunger? This vastness of it often leads people to apathy. Or they end up putting so much of themselves into the cause that they end up burning themselves out and begin suffering from compassion fatigue.

Volunteering your time for a charitable cause is one route to go, but it’s also not that feasible for a lot of people for a variety of reasons.  But there are very simple things that you CAN do on a daily basis to make a small impact. And when large numbers of people all begin to make these small changes, it really adds up.

1.Become more portion conscious. Think about how much food you are ordering before you order it when you go out to eat. Plan on eating those leftovers. If you’re not into leftovers and you know this restaurant serves large portions, share a plate with someone. Same goes for when you’re cooking at home – only take what you need and no more. If you’re still hungry, you can always go back for seconds, or order dessert.

2. Plan ahead. I like to plan my weekly meals in such a way that if there’s anything left over from the night before, it can actually be used in another recipe later in the week. For example, if I make vegetarian tacos, we often have black beans and corn leftover. I can easily use that in vegetarian chili later in the week.

3. Eat leftovers! For the love of God, day old food that is properly refrigerated will not kill you. In fact, most food probably lasts longer than you think if it’s been stored properly.

4. Make your produce last longer. Rinsing fruits and veggies with apple cider vinegar before putting them in the fridge will keep the mold away.

5. Support conscious businesses. Panera Bread Co. is a national chain headquartered here in St. Louis. They have actually opened a community cafe where the food is donation-based. The day-old breads, etc. from other city locations is transported to the community cafe where it is sold the following day, but people only pay what they can. There are suggested prices, and you’re able to pay more if you want, or as little as you can. Whereas other restaurants may throw uneaten food out at the end of the day, Panera is making the most of what it can.

6. Waste less. The OCD efficiency freak in me has a pet peeve about slicing the ends off of fruits and vegetables. It kinda drives me nuts when people leave perfectly edible portions because they cut too far down. I bought a strawberry huller for just this reason.

7. Grow more from the scraps. There’s a laundry list of vegetables that you can actually plant and/or water that will regrow from the stubs. Lettuce, celery and cabbage stubs will grow roots and new leaves if you keep them sitting in an inch or two of fresh water. Once the new leaves start sprouting, you can transplant them outside. Got potatoes, onions or carrots that you didn’t get to eat in time? Plant them, they’ll grow back (assuming a burrowing critter doesn’t get to them in the meantime).

8. Start a garden. You don’t have to grow all of your food, but you can grow some of it, and every little bit counts. With the invention of Pinterest, there’s really no excuse. Everything you need to know is right there.

How it helps: Less demand means less inventory, less inventory means less production, less production means less stress on our natural resources and less pollution in the environment. Less oil, less exhaust, less pesticides, etc. Furthermore, if you opt to buy only local produce, you can help reduce oil usage even further. Buy locally grown organic produce, and you’ll reduce pesticide usage even further.

Obviously, a large number of people would need to do this in order for it to work, but don’t worry about whether or not everyone else is doing it. Only worry about yourself. The amount you save over the course of your lifetime will still add up in the long run.

This obviously addresses food waste by reducing food production. The one thing that this doesn’t solve is the hunger situation and the fact that there are people out there who can’t afford food to begin with. So how can you go about being more conscious about that situation?

Remember that $400 you were wasting every year by throwing food down the garbage disposal? Now you can donate it to a charity that will actually help feed people. 

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I’ve been heavily involved with nonprofit work for six years and I can tell you first hand that what every nonprofit needs more than anything is money.

You can donate all of the nonperishable food in the world to a food pantry, but if they can’t make enough money each year to cover the cost of sorting it, storing it or paying someone to find and organize of all of the volunteers,  handle the distribution of the food and take care of finances, they’ll be gone before you know it.

The thing that every nonprofit needs is cash, long-term volunteers who are emotionally involved in the cause, and supplies – in that order – and the cash is the hardest to come by.

Choose a LOCAL nonprofit. They’re the ones who are out in the field, doing the work. Most national nonprofits focus on more large-scale operations such as political lobbying and research funding.

For example, although the Humane Society of the United States shows you those commercials with sad puppies on them and asks you to donate to save lives, your dollars don’t go directly to that cause. They go to help HSUS lobby to create animal welfare laws, and raise more money. It’s the local chapters of the Humane Society that are actually directly saving animals, and they do their own fundraising, locally. The HSUS may offer grants to animal welfare organizations, but it’s a minute portion of their spending and they do not directly fund them otherwise. Know where your dollars are actually going before you donate.

If  you ARE considering donating to a national charity, at least check them out on Charity Navigator first. Otherwise, a quick Google search will help you find a worthy local nonprofit organization.

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1 Comment

  1. I feel that I’ve been so ignorant! It never crossed my mind I can plant lettuce stubs, old potato’s, carrots, etc. in my garden and have them grow more of what I use all the time! Thank you for that tidbit. I will save so much money adding these to my small backyard garden. Planting time is right around the corner and I’m going to start my “seedlings” and get them ready to plant. Thank you Ash. You are a blessing in so many ways.

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