John Mattingly:Socratic Rancher 9-3-12 |

John Mattingly:Socratic Rancher 9-3-12

I heard recently that U.S. consumers waste over 40 percent of the food they purchase from restaurants, supermarkets and box stores. It makes a person wonder how this statistic was gathered. There must be a lot of dedicated garboligists out there with computers.

Coming from a family of clean plates and leftovers, I doubted the exact number, but not the observation that people in this country waste quite a bit of food.

Several reasons for this come readily to mind.

First, portion sizes are on the increase. Food is often offered in quantities greater than we can use, and so many times items are priced in multiples that encourage buying more. We are conditioned to think that buying in volume results in a discount, but that’s only a true bargain if the purchase isn’t perishable and we can actually use the excess before it perishes. There’s an old joke about the guy who came home with 200 pounds of parsnips.

Second, the freshness date on food is sometimes misinterpreted as being the spoilage date. The freshness date actually means the date to which the food is best, not the date at which it should be trashed. My grandmother used to say, “Don’t eat anything that won’t spoil, but eat it before it does.” She came from a generation in which refrigeration was accomplished with an ice box, and most of those were just big enough for necessities.

Third, people in the U.S. have large refrigerators. These huge storage units can hold a lot more food than most people can eat, and the fridge tends to hide things so that certain stuff gets buried in the back or under a bunch of stuff and spoils from failure to find.

We learned this recently when we spent some time on the farm in a small bunkhouse with a really small fridge. At first we thought the fridge would be too small, but over time, we came to appreciate that it was actually just right. It held the amount of food we typically consumed between trips to the store, and it was small enough that we could see everything.

Finally, it seems to me that a lot people in the U.S. don’t know how or what to eat. Humans used to learn to eat from their parents and other tribe members, but today we have decided, for some strange reason, to trust our diets to food scientists, who warn about what will likely kill us, what supplements will save us and what triangle of foods is best for us.

This domination of the food scientists has led to some very odd outcomes, such as whole wheat being processed down into its components, then fortified with various vitamins and minerals that were removed in the processing, and offered back to us in some chemical feast of ingredients, some of which defy pronunciation.

In this world of strange foods, it maybe little wonder that we throw a lot of it away because it really doesn’t seem like “food.”

Whether the 40 percent claim of garboligists is correct or not, it seems a little prudence in purchasing, and moderation in consumption, could have gone a long way toward making the most of the money we spend on food, given that it appears food will be more expensive in the months to come, due to the drought and economic conditions that always press food prices higher. ❖

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