Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Back from Thanksgiving

Like many Americans, I have mixed feelings about Thanksgiving. As a child, the holiday included a wide array of volatile personalities and unreasonable expectations. Add in the fact that my birthday is always within 3 days of the holiday, and you have a classic recipe for ambiguity.

As an adult, my holiday ambiguity has a different face- the face of excess. I like Thanksgiving food, even as a child, and still do as an adult. I like it a lot. Sadly, my body doesn't like it as much as my eyes and my brain. Even knowing how bad I will feel if I eat everything, restraint doesn't come easy.

Chuck and I just got back from a 2000 mile round trip to go home for Thanksgiving. We celebrate with our children and their families, our siblings and their families and my parents. Thanksgiving Day is at my sister-in-laws. I have several sisters-in-law, and they are all good cooks. My niece is as well and everything was delicious. This year it included roasted turkey, smoked turkey, dressing, ham, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, rolls, cinnamon rolls, greens, a raw vegetable plate, and dessert. Gooseberry pie, pumpkin pie, apple pie and a birthday cake for me. Oh, and some deer bologna given to me by a young friend, from his first deer. (At his house, they ate wild turkey- I think it was his first turkey as well.)
There were a lot of people there, and food was not wasted- anything leftover went home with various nieces and nephews, sons and daughters. But there was so much on that table- it was almost pornographic. And we did it again the next day with my family- meat chili, vegetarian chili, posole, veggie posole, noshes galore. The world's best birthday cake.

I'm not the only one to be thinking of excess at this time of year. While reading this Culinate article, I came across these stunning statistics:
  • "As a symbol of American abundance, Thanksgiving hints at just how much food there is to squander. And squander we do, from farm to fork. More than 40 percent of all food produced in America is not eaten, according to research by former University of Arizona anthropologist Timothy Jones. That amounts to more than 29 million tons of food waste each year, or enough to fill the Rose Bowl every three days. Nationwide, food scraps make up 17 percent of what we send to landfills."
The article goes on to say this:
  • "We live in a culture of excess, and food is no exception. The average American wastes more than half a pound of food per day. I’m no mathematical whiz, but that would be a whole Quarter Pounder at lunch and dinner. When you count what’s put down the disposal, 25 percent of what enters our homes is not eaten, Rathje reports. " (William Rathje is a Stanford archaeologist who ran the Garbage Project at the University of Arizona in the '70's and 80's.)"
and this:
  • "Financially, wasted food costs America more than $100 billion annually, says the University of Arizona’s Jones. (The USDA’s most recent estimate on the cost of food waste — $96 billion10 years old.) Closer to home, the average four-person household wastes about $600 of food each year. "
Wow. I mean, really, WOW. That's appalling.

So what can we do? This little video has some thoughts:

This 8 minute video by Alison Byrne talks about food waste and composting in New York City. Her discussion of how many elephants it would take to make up the DAILY amount of food wasted in NYC alone is powerful.

And this blog has some suggestions, as well.

So what am I doing? Well, we already compost, and our dogs benefit from meat scraps we can't safely compost. Leftovers are not negatives around here- we practice once a week cooking on the weekend and eat leftovers all week long. My biggest problem is being sure I use everything in a timely manner. I grew up in a large family, and learned to cook in quantity. With just me and Chuck, we often have more than we can eat before it gets bad. Add in my "out of sight, out of mind" thought process, and that could mean the things in the freezer, out-of-the-way cabinet or corner of the produce drawer might get over looked. So I have lists of what's where, protecting the output of the major canning operation of the past summer and fall. And I am going to learn to cook smaller amounts. We'll see the results of that on the scales!