I hadn’t taken our compost bins to the Farmer’s Market in about three weeks, so I had three of the bins we keep in our refrigerator. What always strikes me are the small bags of compost that most people bring. I’m not saying this put down their efforts, which I think are commendable. But, the thing is Carol and I are two people and we eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. We end up with a good part of a bin every week and in the summer when there’s fresh corn the bins are full. So, when I see a man or woman with a couple of kids in tow with a small bag of compost, this tells me they are eating mostly packaged or prepared foods with little or no food waste.
I don’t want to seem to be coming down on people who work out of home during the day and have to prepare family meals at night. I remember how that was when my son was young. However, when you’re eating mostly prepared food, you are not getting the most nutritious foods. Foods that are canned or flash frozen have fewer nutrients than recently picked fresh fruits and vegetables. And canned and frozen usually seem tasteless to us. That’s a good reason to get locally grown vegetables and fruits, but any raw vegetables means compostable food scraps.
The other problem with prepared foods is that they tend to be cheaper because we subsidize their inputs. The Lost Angeles Times reported on a CALPIRG study that found that “[f]rom 1995 to 2010, $16.9 billion in federal subsidies went to producers and others in the business of corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, corn starch and soy oils.” For poorer families this means cheap but “empty” calories and something that also contributes to obesity.
I do appreciate the work that goes into preparing meals from scratch and how hard it is when you’re working, but that is how we do supper most days. (We do go out a sometimes.) And because Carol is a vegetarian and I’m an omnivore, I eat my meat meals principally at lunch. So, our evening meals usually require some preparation. Another confession: Carol cooks most nights and she is excellent, but now that both of us are working at home, I’m working on that. When I cook, I like to mix things up, and eggplant has become one of my favorite vegetables. The point of all this is that when you do cook, you generate more food scraps than you think you would and I’m always amazed at the amount of compost we have at the end of the week.
Unfortunately, as a society, we compost small amounts of food waste and discarded food. For example, an Oregon study found that about 18 percent of all waste was food waste and that only 5 percent of that was composted with the rest incinerated or put into landfill. Dylan Walsh reported, in the New York Times, that 30 million tons of food was dumped in landfills in 2009. Walsh’s article concerns efforts by the food industry to reduce unrecycled food waste. Moreover, some municipalities are jumping on the band wagon. For example, San Francisco started moving early – in 1989 – and has a well-developed composting program.
By comparison, New York is a Johnny-come-lately on composting. There are a number of facilities around the city that take compost. A Wall Street Journal article reported that compost collected at a number of Green Markets (7 out of 54 in 2011) was being hauled to a facility in Delaware for processing, hardly the greenest of solutions.
This is an environmental issue in New York that needs work and groups like Food and Water Watch are working on it. More is needed.
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