Supersized Issues

July 9, 2013 in Food Economics, Foodland, Foodland Chronicles, General by Joyce Bunderson

Are you one of those people that find it easier to do something for someone else, than for yourself? Maybe focusing on the needs of others and the needs of earth will be the key to healthy progress. On July 4, 2013 CNN World published an environmental article called, How supersized portions cost the earth by Rachel Smith. It was a thought-promoting piece that I forwarded to my husband, Victor (aka Dr. Grandpa).

Rachel Smith is the co-founder of a newly formed organization called Halfsies, a social initiative organization that encourages less food waste. The organization links choosing restaurant food well; eating less; and finally donating the saved money to support those suffering from food insecurity.  A two minute and twenty-five second video can give you a quick overview of their mission.

On the surface this does not appear to be an incredibly complex problem, but if we only look at the level of emotion displayed by those who commented on the article, we see that it is loaded with complexity and emotion.

Smith begins her article with reference to the old adage, “Waste not, want not.” I grew up in a home where my grandmother raised five children during the depression; the waste not adage was almost scripture. I accepted it and concurred that it was a good goal. Years later I became a dietitian and struggled with helping people control their weight. It became apparent to me that I had to adjust my belief in that old adage. In all honesty, I used to try to help my patients recognize that sometimes, eating food in order to not waste it was wasting something even more precious than the food – their health/ and sometimes their lives.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not advocating for food waste. I personally am a very careful manager of our food, but I do want to recognize the complexity of the goal. I wish Halfsies and all the other organizations that are working toward a decrease in food waste the best; and will support them. But I want to say that while this movement is getting started, we should not begin eating more food than our bodies need just because we don’t want to waste it.

We humans have learned how to grow food more productively and certainly in many places on earth there is more than enough food. It’s a matter of getting enough to all the people, and not getting too much to others. As for the “too much” population, millions of pages have been dedicated to eating less – managing food wisely – whatever you call it. We can no longer rely on the Christian ethic regarding the seven deadly sins, of which gluttony is one; as it seems that most people reject the thought, and judging by all the TV programs and eating contests that feature it, gluttony is a big attraction these days. I personally don’t believe that it helps to label eating foibles as sin or any other negative emotion. In my experience, it helps to focus on achieving success and the steps for how it’s done. Having said that, I will admit that I find television that is essentially glamorizing gluttony to be disgusting.

To bring us back to Smith’s article, we note that our dinnerware, our portion sizes, our waists and our food waste are all expanding in lock step at quite a clip. The results sadly are reflected in the correlated rising rates of diabetes and heart disease. A disturbing new statistic has shown that 50 percent of all the food produced on the planet goes into the trash. (See World wastes half its food, study finds.)

Of course, we now know that we have the ability to eat far more than we need; when the calories are in front of us, we will eat. Although this is true, we can take steps to keep ourselves safe. I’ve written about quite a bit about Brian Wansink’s mindless eating research. It seems perfectly clear to me that Dr. Wansink’s research findings are tightly linked with an understanding of this problem. It’s an issued of becoming mindful, each and every individual – of mindfully monitoring intake, and mindfully cutting back.

Certainly, no one individual is able to solve this complex problem; but we can begin to chip away at it. Funny thing is, as Halfsies has identified, when we begin making progress on one of the issues, it can affect other issues. For example, when we order less food, we eat less food and we learn how to efficiently use that food, it reduces the amount of pollution in the air, essentially affecting all of us and future generations.

When we’re wasting food, we’re not only adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, but we’re wasting the water used to grow the food (90 percent of water consumed in the US is for animal and crop-related farm uses.) There are many articles and documentaries that discuss the issue of water; one that Victor and I have recently watched is called Water Wars. Yes, the problems of food and water management are complex.

After reflecting on Smith’s article, let us resolve to begin paying more attention to the better managing of our food.

  • If we’re more careful with what we buy – not buying more than we can use
  • If we store or freeze food to keep it from waste
  • If we give surplus food to a food bank or a neighbor
  • If we limit our portion sizes – use some of Brian Wansink’s methods
  • If we’re asked to supersize – just say no.
  • If we share restaurant servings, buy a kid’s meal, or take some home

Then we can help our own waistlines, our own health, the health of our communities, the health of the world and lastly, an improved environment. As Smith says, “Our personal decisions matter.” Maybe we can be motivated to manage our food better because we like to do good things for others and for our green and blue home, our lovely earth.