Thursday, July 7, 2016

You May Be What You Eat, But You Live In What You Waste

When I open my fridge I see lots of beauty. Fluffy florets of broccoli, the pale green hue of a ripe grape, the dark and sensuous mousse au chocolat; there, just beyond the white refrigerator door, lies a temperature controlled metropolis bursting with color, scent, and of course, taste. It is a world of sensual delights that makes my world possible. But there is a dark side to this mouthwatering metropolis, a side most of us don't see or think about; like any city, there is sin here too. There is corruption, and in it, a wealth of waste.

Apparently this is a very old work of art once used for a postcard.

I started to take notice of this waste last week, when I began bartending again. As both the customers and beer began to pour, I grew busier and busier. It wasn't long before bus tubs were brimming with dishes and the large, industrial size garbage bags were bursting with all sorts of discarded waste. I didn't have much time to consider what I was throwing away, but included in the scraps were fragments of uneaten food, soggy coasters, and too many plastics to name. Even if I tried, many of those items could not have been salvaged. Unfortunately, most plastic items cannot be recycled, or require extensive, and often times unavailable actions to do so.

This got me thinking about how much waste humans actually produce from daily eating habits. Obviously restaurants produce the most, but it's everywhere and caused in part by everyone. After my shift that night I went home and opened my fridge only to discover that all the beautiful foods I so admire (described above) were literally wrapped in ugliness. Almost everything we buy comes in packaging, that for the most part, contributes to the excessive amount of growing global waste. Yes, certain things like bottles and cans and even some plastic containers can be recycled, in some places, but so many things like saran wrap, small plastic bags that hold produce and deli items, and small items that go unnoticed like twist ties and flimsy bottle labels are mindlessly added to the toxic clutter contaminating our ecosystem, and our home.

Human beings are the only species on the planet to produce waste. Says a lot about us doesn't it? And a lot of that waste has to do with the way we eat. You will never find a bird packaging worms in a plastic container, nor a lion storing his leftover zebra carcass in tupperware. Although it may seem convenient at the time, the way we eat is not natural. Pretty much everything we consume comes with an additional cost beyond what we pay at the store, and it isn't cheap.

Unless you buy your foods at a farmer's market and reuse non-plastic storage options, chances are that every single item you buy comes in packaging that is adding to waste and pollution. And even if you are avoiding all that packaging, the production of many items, like meat and processed foods, require extensive use of natural resources like water and oil, to name a few. So how do we break free from an entire culture, a metropolis if you will, of waste?

Photograph by Mark Thiessen, National Geographic

It won't be easy. Unless we each become self sufficient organic farmers, the problem of producing harmful waste may never be completely eradicated. However, human beings tend to pride themselves on their superior intelligence, and being that every other species seems to have no problem getting this one thing right, I have the utmost faith that we humans can figure out a way to do the same. Perhaps we simply need to redirect our intelligence towards the greater good and away from the greater convenience.

With that said, I have several changes I must enact personally; for we are all responsible for our own small part. First on my list is finding a decent farmer's market and investing in a few stylish and sturdy tote bags to carry things like fresh produce, herbs, and baguettes (when I was in Paris these bags were all the rage! Hardly anybody used plastic!) Find yours here: 12-farmers-market-totes-you'll-want-to-flaunt.

Parisians shopping with re-usable totes at the marché ouvert 
But my second, and perhaps more important change, will be to study and understand the foods I'm consuming. Just as some foods are healthier for your body than others, some are also healthier for the planet. There are several reasons one food may be ecologically superior; it may have to do with the time of year, location, or the amount of resources needed to produce said food. The only way to know and start eating with the planet in mind is do the research, which is why I've included a great article from Top 10 Eco-Friendly Foods to get started.

This article does more than list the top ten ecologically friendly foods, it also explains how and why these foods are good for us and mother nature :) So enjoy digesting the knowledge and remember, what is good for the planet is also good for us. While it will require a lifelong commitment to making a change, we can feel good knowing that when we open our refrigerator door we will be entering a world of not only tasty indulgence or enticing beauty,  but a world unsullied by needless waste. This would be a world in connection with all others, sustainable and whole. A world made possible through kind and mindful thought and actions.  And personally, I can't imagine a world more delicious than that.