This month’s Ruly Challenge will give you back precious space, put money in your wallet, save the planet and perhaps allow you to shed a few pounds too! Intrigued? Read on!
When I opened my own pantry last week, I found it was so jammed that I could hardly fit in the new groceries. Taking a hard look at what was in the pantry, I decided it was time to reduce and become more streamlined.
The Challenge: To the best of your ability, aim to subsist on nothing but the current food stores in your pantry and refrigerator/freezer. Eat as many meals as you can from the ingredients you already have, purchasing as little as possible. Clean out your refrigerator and freezer and unclutter your fridge doors.
Food waste is a serious problem in the United States. The issue has been researched and documented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Due to the perishable nature of food, there are losses throughout the food production and distribution cycle but the largest percentage of losses occur at the consumer level.
“In 1994, the food supply provided an estimated 3,800 calories per person per day, enough to supply every American with more than one and a half times their average daily energy needs. Given this abundance, few of the Nation’s resources have traditionally been devoted to measuring or reducing food waste. . . . From foods forgotten and spoiled in the refrigerator to the uneaten vegetables tossed in the garbage, consumer and foodservice food waste is the single largest source of food loss in the marketing chain. Estimated at 91 billion pounds, this food loss accounted for 26 percent of the edible food available for human consumption in 1995.”
“Estimating and Addressing America’s Food Losses,” Food Review, January – April 1997
Tim Jones, a professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona, has spent decades going through people’s garbage to determine the truth about our consumption and waste patterns. Professor Jones estimates that each household wastes 14% of their food purchases, throwing away at least $590 per year.
“[F]ruits and vegetables are the single biggest category of wasted food. . . ‘[T]hat’s what healthy people do, right? They eat lots of fruits and vegetables. So they buy those, usually on a Sunday, let’s say. And then all week long they get home from work, tired, they have prepared foods that they do have. And finally the next weekend when they get around to finally having some time, let’s say on Saturday, and they go in there and open it up and most of it’s already mush.’”
“Anthropologist Suggests Ways to Stop Wasting Food,” National Public Radio, November 27, 2006
“Cutting food waste would also go a long way toward reducing serious environmental problems. Jones estimates that reducing food waste by half could reduce adverse environmental impacts by 25 percent through reduced landfill use, soil depletion and applications of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.”
“Study: Nation Wastes Nearly Half Its Food,’ The University of Arizona, UA News, November 18, 2004
Growing up, I watched my Depression-era grandmothers save or freeze every morsel of food they prepared or were served. They took leftovers home from restaurants before it was popular to do so and cringed if you didn’t eat everything on your plate. Nothing was wasted. As someone who has never known hunger, I found this behavior odd.
We are now so far away from this parsimonious food strategy. It is so easy to buy food in huge quantities cheaply and just throw away what we don’t want or need. The Ruly Challenge this month asks us to step back for a moment and think about what we really do eat in a month.
If you only purchased what you truly would eat (and a little more for emergency storage), how much money might you save? Would your waistline also benefit? Would you make better shopping choices in the future? Will you learn something about yourself and evaluate the goals you have for yourself with regard to eating versus the reality of what you actually consume?
As for me, all of the excess staples and impulse food buys over the past months are now waiting for my family’s consumption. So far, I have eaten breakfast from the pantry (oatmeal) and have made several lunches and dinners from the fridge and freezer. Accomplishing this challenge requires some creativity. We all get into standard patterns of eating (cereal for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, etc.). To use up your food supply, you will need to change your eating patterns and perhaps invent new recipes. (I had a yummy smoothie yesterday blending together orange juice concentrate, frozen blackberries, a tube of Go-Gurt, water and ice.)
At the end of the month, if there is something you still have not touched, it is time to decide whether it gets thrown out, donated to a food charity, friends or family or gets to stay.
Of course, I expect you to deviate from the plan for Thanksgiving meal preparations but in this regard, be thoughtful about how much you are preparing and have a plan to use all the leftovers. Use Thanksgiving as a feast to reward yourself for your discipline and reflect on those who may not have such luxuries.
Finally, at the end of the month when your food supply is down to a minimal level, clear out your refrigerator and freezer, wash the inside and outside of your fridge and, if your fridge is covered in magnets, photos and other “stuff” decide which objects get to stay on the fridge and which can be tossed or preserved elsewhere.
In the business context, you could adapt these strategies to the office kitchen. How much food and snacks that you are paying to provide are your employees actually consuming? Have you built up a stockpile of coffee to last you the next year? Would it be worthwhile to do a quick survey to see what people are eating/drinking and what is just going to waste?
The challenge this time is a bit tougher than last time. I suppose the shortcut version is just to toss out a bunch of food at the end of the month but that isn’t really the point if you do that all the time anyway. I encourage you to make at least a small effort. Please feel free to post comments on your progress and creative recipes along the way!