Food & Thought

My refrigerator broke down earlier in the week.  The quick fix became buying a mini-fridge & scrambling to save the perishables: eggs, butter, cream cheese, deli fixings.  Since my husband was at work, I had the unfortunate task of tossing the rest of the food.

As I sat at my kitchen table, eating my weight in applesauce, (seriously, did you think I was going to get rid of home-grown Graves Mountain applesauce?) I contemplated the containers of mayonnaise, oyster sauce, ricotta cheese & anchovies sticking out of the garbage can.  I had had to get rid of some leftover chicken breasts that would have made a perfectly good meal, but I just didn’t have any more room.

If there is one thing I cannot abide in this world, it is wasted food.  Everything I had tossed in the garbage was not just wasted money, it was wasted sustenance.  Faulkner’s character V. K. Ratliff may argue that money is emblematic of strife; I argue that food is emblematic of life.  The equation is simple: you eat to live, therefore what I was staring at that night was akin to rot.

I thought back to the pictures my husband Kurt had shown me when he got back from “boot camp” at culinary school.  The students would prepare platters of food every day as part of their assignments.  At the end of class, there would be a tasting, where the instructor & the students could judge how well each team executed the assignment.  The leftovers, sometimes half a plateful remaining, were always tossed.

Image credit: Kurt Rabin
Image credit: Kurt Rabin

He also told me about the cafeterias on campus where full-time students hone their craft.  At the end of the day, everything uneaten was tossed.  Not donated to a homeless shelter, not reused in a compost pile.  Just thrown away. I couldn’t even comprehend the idea: perfectly good food suddenly classified as trash.

I think part of what makes me so angry is how cavalier people are about food in general.  It seems like most people I encounter don’t question that there will always be enough food for their next meal or even where it will come from.  There’s no reason why their fridge shouldn’t be stocked full of things they probably won’t use after one meal, much like mine was before it died.

I think this attitude is also what makes me so angry & depressed about stores like Wegmans.  We recently got one here in Fredericksburg & it’s been called, by my friends & co-workers, “the foodie’s heaven.”  The few times I’ve been there, I have never felt very blessed.  Just amazed & offended by the obscene amount of food on their shelves.

Kurt & I went within the first few weeks they were open.  I remember standing next to the never-ending wall of pre-washed spinach, salad greens & other leafy fillers.  One of the employees rolled a huge bin up & started pulling bags of bean sprouts.  I wasn’t sure, but I think she was pulling them to be thrown away.  She cleared the entire row of shelves of the “old” produce, I would think, only to be filled with new.  Unless there’s some new salmonella warning I missed.

I kept staring at the huge pile of bags in disbelief until Kurt had to physically move me from the spot.

The other thing about Wegmans I noticed is that all of the men there look pregnant.  I’m not talking about guys walking around with low-hanging beer bellies; at least that would make them look somewhat cylindrical in shape.  No, the men I’m talking about had an hour-glass figure, with breasts that would rival mine & curvaceous thighs.  I know I’m using problematic language here, but before you call me sexist or resistant to the idea of a “feminized” man, let me say this.  For all of their womanly appearance, that’s where the resemblance stopped.  These men gave out an apathetic, neutered vibe.  They looked just as dazed & overwhelmed by the amount of food around them as I was & they acted like their only response was to eat their way through it all.  Through the goat-cheese stuffed peppers, the almond-crusted Alaskan salmon, the palek paneer at the Indian buffet & the fresh fruit gelato.  Eating to conquer the surrounding excess, not to enjoy a new experience.

For all of the wealth of food around me, all I could wonder was how much of it got thrown away every day.  How long did those $200 truffles sit in their clear plastic case before they were deemed unfit to sell?  How much of the sushi, put out non-stop by the 4 chefs behind the counter, actually was purchased & eaten?  Or the cases & cases of the different types of milk?  How much of that went bad & how quickly?

Now that I think about it, I don’t know which is the more depressing thought: that all of that food has the potential to be wasted or that in truth, there is no waste.  That there are hundreds & thousands of people who do eat & drink every scrap, winning the battle of excess by consuming every bit.  The thought of eating vs. consumption is a very unhappy one indeed, when you have to consider all of those mouths that must be fed.


2 thoughts on “Food & Thought”

  1. Elizabeth,
    I’m not sure about the $298/lb. truffles, but according to their website, Wegman’s gave over 16 million pounds of their groceries (day-old bread, etc.) to food banks and food pantries in 2008. The store does seem to be filled with an excessive amount of stuff, but if you look at the amount of people who shop there daily (and the number of cars in the parking lot at any given time) compared to the local Giant Food, it’s not that difficult to imagine the food flying off the shelves.
    Hopefully, not too much goes to waste…

  2. Hey lady,

    I really enjoyed this post. I am probably one of the friends you quoted as saying that Wegman’s was a “foodie’s heaven.” For a while there I did, I bought into the hype. I still think it’s a great store but I have become more particular about what I buy there. (I love the organics section.)

    After I read this post by Rebecca at Cook Eat Drink (also the same Rebecca from Kybecca):,
    I employed a different view.

    I dearly love to shop local however time and money don’t always permit this. As someone who grew up in a lower to lower middle class home food wasn’t always a staple of life but a luxury, so I definitely agree with your horror about the food waste in this country. If we have that much left over food in which we can just throw away then we should never have one starving citizen. Period.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. 🙂

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