LIVE LOCAL, LIVE SMALL: Gwenyfar Rohler ponders food waste and how we can make contributions to reduce it
On November 28, 2008, Mark Boyle embarked upon a year of living without money. He chronicled his journey in a book, “The Moneyless Man: A Year of Freeconomic Living.” I have had it in my “to read” stack for quite some time. His year of living without money overlapped with the year I took my “live local” pledge not to shop online or in a chain store. My experiment was met with varying degrees of support and derision, but it was by far nowhere near as extreme as Boyle’s.
As an opportunity to really explore how money does or doesn’t drive our lives, Boyle’s journey is noteworthy. Though, the writing is dry, boring and pretty uninspiring—which is surprising; the whole book should be one big adventure.
Boyle was enmeshed in the world of freecycle and freeskilling long before he got into the idea of living without money. Freecycle functions in cyberspace to connect people with stuff to give away with people who need or want said stuff; therefore, keeping it out of the landfill. Freeskilling is the sharing of knowledge of skills for free. There are lots of examples of sharable skills at freeskilling workshops: foraging for wild edible food, sewing, bike repair, etc.
Freecycle is available in Wilmington. Ten years ago, I belonged to the service and just fell out of it somehow. But I enjoyed it at the time and met some nice people through the exchanges. Basically, it works as an online message board. Items are either offered or wanted—ranging from perfectly good packing boxes to furniture to clothes. If anyone has something someone needs or wants, one messages another and arranges pick up. It is actually a great way of connecting people in the digital age with items of necessity or desire in the material world.
Through freecycle, Boyle was able to acquire a trailer to live in for his year of moneyless living. It came from a woman who was tired of paying to store it. He parked the trailer on a farm where he traded his labor for rent. A recent freeskilling workshop on building rocket stoves connected him with someone who had a stove in need of a home. A rocket stove is a device frequently discussed in permaculture and sustainability circles. It is easy to make, highly fuel-efficient and burns waste materials. Basically, Boyle takes his reader through the process of acquiring shelter, fuel, showering, and eventually food. The latter is where he shines.
Boyle is passionate about reducing food waste and redistributing unwanted food to those who need it. During his moneyless year, he gardened, ate foraged foods from the wild, and learned a lot about milling his own grain to produce food at home. But, time and again, he preached the good word about dumpster diving.
Now, dumpster diving really is not my thing. Gardening, yes. Foraging for wild edibles? Absolutely—I love it. Years spent studying herbs and wild foods have left me enthralled with both. Dumpster diving for food is a bit tough. But I see Boyle’s point. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, approximately one-third of food produced in the world, or 1.3 billion tons, is lost or wasted each year. In a world where one out of every nine people faces hunger or starvation, the waste is criminal. But what to do about it on a large scale?
Well, part of what I like about Boyle is, rather than try to change the entire system, he starts with himself. If he can salvage food from the landfill and feed himself, and those around him, it is one step forward. To bookend his moneyless year, Boyle hosted two parties for the public where all the food served was acquired without payment. Either he dumpster-dove for it, grew it or foraged it. The idea of feeding close to a 1,000 people in Bristol, UK, without a pre-ordained menu or a dollar spent on acquisition is pretty mind blowing for any host or hostess. But let’s not get hung up on that; rather, it is an opportunity to think about our own food waste.
I frequently refer to our refrigerator as “the place food goes to die.” We are just not very good at keeping on top of what is in there, or producing the old-school casserole to use all the leftovers. I wish we were better. Considering the work Jock does with food spoilage and post–harvest processing, it is a topic much on our minds.
I also try to be good about picking up the pecans from the trees around us. Some years I do better with planning and staying on top of the nut production. Others, the whole season gets past me before I notice the wonderful source of protein literally dropping to the ground around me.
One of my 2017 New Year’s resolutions was to grow and produce more food on the land for which I pay property taxes. I have loved and cherished the grape vines there for many years, but this year we ate an abundance of blueberries, chard, salad greens, broccoli, tomatoes, and peppers. Again, I failed to harvest pecans form the trees. The squirrels denied me figs; every fig that started to ripen on my tree succumbed to the little fuckers. I almost wrestled a squirrel for one by the end of the summer—except evolution left me in the dust. Utilizing the powers of speed, agility and smaller size, he got away.
There are moments of realization that, to everyone else, appears I am overreacting—which might be apparent with my personal fig struggle with the squirrels and also of Mr. Boyle’s reaction to money. It takes an extreme position to get people’s attention and begin the negotiation process toward incremental change. So, here is my list of four things that can be done now to reduce food waste and get food to the people who need it most:
1. Take home leftovers from restaurants. Not going to eat them? Leave them on a park bench so someone who is hungry can find the two slices of pizza that went untouched and are perfectly good but destined to become a science experiment in the fridge.
2. Use up what is in the fridge. (This is the hard one for us.) Make soups or casseroles; invite friends over for an evening of leftovers-turned-tapas.
3. Harvest the food in your yard: pecans, plums, pears, roses, and if you can get them before the squirrels, figs and loquats. A lot of people have loquats as ornamental trees but they actually produce really good edible fruit.
4. Give to Nourish NC’s backpack program. Nourish NC works with social workers to put canned goods in backpacks of children who need food over the weekend, outside of school hours, and during school holidays.
Here’s a list of Nourish NC’s most wanted items for this program:
• Canned pasta with meat
• Vegetable cups
• Cereal, granola, oatmeal
• Canned chicken or tuna
• Canned chili with beans/black beans
• Mac and cheese boxes
• Clif Bars or granola bars
• Individual fruit cups
• Individual juice boxes
• Peanut butter and jelly (no glass)
• Please, no expired or junk food.
We might not be able to feed the world overnight, but with some focus and effort, we can waste less and put more food in the hands of those who need it.