Food Waste: Gut Check

Isn’t it funny when righteous people are confronted with practical exceptions to their principles?  Don’t we love it when the family values politician gets caught in a gay tryst on video, or when the environmental crusader is exposed for owning a Hummer and a Learjet with the combined carbon footprint of Paul Bunion?

This happened on the puny scale of my life yesterday.  While my lovely partner slept beside me, I quietly watched Bill Maher on Youtube.  He was interviewing Paul Hawken, a climate scientist and author, about a comprehensive plan for reversing the warming effects of human consumption.  The professor had ranked the things we can do right now, things that can be scaled up as they are, without relying on the promise of developing technologies.

At the top of the list was the reduction of food waste.  In affluent countries, not only do we grow more than we need, which is a carbon intensive activity, but we also dispose of the waste food in landfills, where it rots and releases huge volumes of methane.

The next day, I shared this discovery, relating it to the blog I’d written the day before about the immorality of Canada’s $31 billion annual food waste problem and its practical solution.  My girlfriend seemed suitably impressed by the timely validation of my position, by Maher’s guest.

We had this discussion over bowls of gluten-free penne, with chicken, bacon, and fried garlic, in an Alfredo sauce, served on a bed of baby spinach.  She interrupted me to comment on how good the food was, and I, of course, humbly agreed.

“No,” she went on, “I’m saying that it tastes too good.  Are you sure it’s gluten free pasta?”

I was sure, I told her.  I remembered reaching for the box in the cupboard above the stove and was quite sure I’d used a corn based pasta.

Let me state for the record that our house has been gluten free for a month, really as an experiment.  My partner had suffered from some fairly extreme symptoms associated with glutenemia and was ordered by her doctor to eliminate wheat from her diet.

In solidarity, I stopped eating wheat too.  It was tough.  My sleep was disrupted, I was often hungry and thought fondly of scones and doughnuts in quiet moments.

However, I’d also felt some improvement in my general health, and her terrible symptoms had been relieved.  So, I was resolved to stick with it as long as she did.  Furthermore, my research warned against the reintroduction of gluten, which would be a shock to my system after I’d gone without it for a while.  The inclusion of gluten in my diet could temporarily cause me some of the suffering my partner had endured previously.

We were already half finished our meals, but we paused while I went to the kitchen to confirm that I’d actually used the gluten free option.  I had not.  The boxes of gluten free pasta were sealed, and the opened one boasted 100% Durham wheat.

As too often happens in my household, I was obliged to say, “you’re right,” with practiced grace and levity.  She put down her fork and looked amusedly across the bowls at me.

I apologized, but reminded her that this was all an experiment to test the effect of wheat in her diet.  It was always our intention, after eating gluten free for a while, to reintroduce small amounts and monitor the effects.  All I’d done was complete the experiment, albeit unintentionally.

She didn’t disagree, though she made it known that I’d be held responsible for any ill effects resulting from my error.  I think her exact words were, “You have poisoned me.”

Of course, she was right.  I’d probably poisoned myself as well. Hence, I demurred.

After a moment of silence, she looked down at the half eaten food and asked what I was going to do with the rest.  After my rant about food waste and the validation of my blog, I could hardly throw it out.  So I sat there and glumly ate the rest, while she pushed hers away and smiled.

By way of epilogue, I can reveal that we both suffered overnight.  I am proud, as my family can attest, for eating things that others will not touch, especially leftovers of uncertain provenance, and, in the right circumstances, I regard mold as a garnish.

Until now, I've consumed what others regard as inedible to save effort, time, and money.  Now I’ll do it to save the planet as well. But never has my commitment been tested like it was by the reglutinization of my gut last night.  If I’d just kept my mouth shut about the serendipity of Bill Maher’s interview and my blog post of the previous day, I might have spared myself many panicky hours shuttling between the bathroom and the bedroom during the wee hours.

Despite this humbling episode, I remain convinced that there is an obvious solution to Canada’s food scarcity problem to be found in Canada’s food waste problem.  Adding the environmental consequences to my economic and social arguments only strengthens my resolve.  I would gladly trade another night of suffering for the slightest measure of traction on this issue in either industry or government.

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