Thursday, January 21, 2021

Reducing waste and trying new things

Fun delivery this week!

2 cucumbers, 6 pears, 2 rutabagas, 1 large turnip, 1 tiny turnip (hidden behind the big one), 2 mangoes, a ton of ginger, 2 big bunches of cilantro, 7 limes, 4 Anaheim peppers, 6 kiwis, 3 buttnernut squashes, 2 bunches of broccoli greens, 4 small sweet potatoes

One of the Christmas gifts we received this year was a gift card to Misfits Market. If you haven't heard of them, their taglines sum it up like this:

    Always affordable, occasionally funny-looking. 
    Always delicious, sometimes normal.

They're describing the organic fruits and vegetables they sell in subscription boxes. It's much like a CSA (community-supported agriculture) box you'd get from a local farm, but the produce is not all local. Gasp! 

Yes, I'd argue the extra shipping is the downside. The produce first came from somewhere and arrived at wherever else before it then traveled again to my house. It has a variable carbon footprint that cannot compete with the farmers market. But, a lot of people are having groceries shipped to their houses these days. You think that case of soda wasn't on three or four different trucks criss-crossing the country before arriving at your doorstep? 

OK. So, if you're having groceries delivered anyway, there are a couple of distinct upsides to a service like Misfits.

  1. The main upside is Misfits Market's main mission -- reducing food waste. These fruits and veggies are called misfits because they're the perfectly good ones that just don't look perfect. They would normally be thrown out just because they don't fit some shape and/or size norm for general grocery display. You're saving good, valuable food from the garbage.
  2. It's certified organic produce at -- I think -- not-necessarily-organic prices. I got their "Madness" box, which they say is a week's worth of produce for 3-5 people. It's 14 types of produce (I actually received 13 in this box), with 2-4 portions per type (not sure if "portions" and "servings" are the same thing, as I received more squash and way more ginger than I expected). With shipping and tax, it cost $41 and some change. I'm just eyeballing here (I didn't think of weighing everything until it was all already separated and put away), but that seems like a reasonable spend for that much produce. 
  3. I'm also pleased that the packaging was primarily all brown paper product -- recyled and recyclable.
The other upsides are not unique to Misfits. It's conveniently delivered. There's an element of surprise. You get to try a variety of foods. It challenges you to more purposefully work fruits and vegetables into your weekly menu. It's fun to get a big box of fruits and vegetables in the mail.

I almost ended this post here, feeling the importance of reducing food waste goes without saying. Then, I thought it about. And thought about it some more. And, I thought, someone may very well read my saying the main upside is reducing food waste, and react with a big, fat—
So, what?

So, according to the USDA, our nation's "food waste is estimated at between 30-40 percent of the food supply." What!?

There's food lost at every link in the food supply chain, whether crops are damaged by insects out in the field or yogurt expires in the back of your fridge. Besides spoilage, market demand is another reason usable food becomes uselessly trashed. Remember the stories in early 2020 about dairy farmers having to dump milk because they couldn't sell it? How about when there's a report of contaminated lettuce? Suddenly, no wants any salad for awhile.

Consumer expectations practically demand waste. If your grocer's produce section isn't burgeoning with gleaming fruits and vegetables, you perceive some lack in quality. Guess what? No one will actually buy all those apples on the bottom of the pile, because they'll have bruised under the weight of their picture-perfect buddies on top. However, I've noticed more grocery displays that are just a single layer of fruit on a slanted or tiered surface to evoke that image of a mountain of food without actually burying any of the product. It's a good trick.

The store will also have received only produce of perfect shape, size, color, because that's what you want to see. Not all of the "irregular" fruits and vegetables are just thrown away. Many of them are made into something else -- chopped and frozen, dehydrated for a soup mix, made into dog food, or cooked into a prepared dish that's sold ready-to-eat (but a lot of that deli potato salad gets tossed, unpurchased and uneaten, at the end of the day, too). This is where services like Misfits Market come in. They're taking the cosmetically imperfect -- but otherwise perfectly safe and delicious -- products and finding a good home (ideally, your stomach) for them. 

As individual consumers, we know we can plan our grocery lists more effectively and actually eat all of our leftovers to help minimize food waste at our end of the chain. But, there's a much bigger picture. I'll leave you with a few resources -- not just on how food is wasted, but what we as an entire population can do about it:

A 2012 report (dated, but thorough and still relevant!) from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

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