Too much food! ( Part one)

We recently set up a food rescue service at  Nelson  Environment Centre and called it Kai Rescue.    Rescue is the operative word because since we began five weeks ago we’ve rescued 5.8 tonnes of perfectly edible food – and that’s just from two of the seven Nelson supermarkets and a couple of one-off food producers.

The food we rescue is surprisingly good:  sourdough and other artisanal breads, goji berries, pineapples, grapes, melons, gourmet cakes, dozens of scones and muffins, carrot cakes, frozen berries, to name but a few of the treats. We have a whole container load of parsnip chips, a shelf-full of canned peaches, and noodles for Africa.

To think of all this food going to landfill would make my mother ‘turn in her grave’ as the saying goes. We sort and weigh the food and pack it into boxes for the agencies who have registered with us as recipients: the Food Bank, the marae, local church groups who cook free community meals, community centres, and other agencies who work with people who for whatever reason are not coping financially. These come to collect the food and they distribute the food, either cooked or in food parcels, to those in need.

How do you feel about wasting food?  Last year, as part of my waste education work, I was tasked with reducing food waste across Nelson /Tasman, and was shocked to discover the amounts we waste.

We took part in a nationwide survey of household food waste, which looked in over a thousand rubbish bins in Auckland and Wellington, conducted a large online survey and got nearly a hundred people filling out detailed kitchen diaries for a week.

The survey found that NZ households waste a staggering $872 million per year of perfectly edible food. The statistic that drove this home for me was that this is enough to feed free lunches to every school-aged child in NZ for 3 years!

I was interested to discover that there are four “high-waste” groups: families with young children, large households (> 5 people), young adults 16-24 yrs (tell me about it!), and high-income families (over $100,000 per year).

The biggest reason for wasting food was recorded as “busy lifestyle”, which is not surprising, but there are other underlying reasons too, that are more about attitude, including not valuing the food we buy.

It turns out that older people waste the least food. So what was different when we were young? I was born in 1950 and remember that we had a modest veggie garden – growing cabbages, marrows, Brussel sprouts and green beans but not a whole lot more. Milk was delivered daily by the milkman, and the fishmonger came on Fridays.

Mum would send us kids over to the baker each day with a wicker basket and to the butcher three times per week. Her  groceries she ordered weekly from the grocer who delivered on Thursdays in his little van. There were six in our family and, when I compare her tiny box of weekly groceries with my supermarket trolley full, I am sobered!

Her box typically comprised one small bag of flour, one pound of butter, a box of matches, sometimes custard powder, maybe gravy browning or salad dressing, and one tin of fish or corned beef.

The corned beef tin was tiny but she managed to eke it out to feed six, with mashed potatoes and boiled cabbage. Imagine serving up such a meal these days! But we were slim and healthy kids and I don’t remember any fat kids at school.

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Sarah Langi is an opccasional contributor to Kiwiboomers. She has worked for Nelson Environment Centre for more than a decade now, delivering programmes in renewable energy, waste education, gardening and streamcare to schools and early childhood centres in Tasman and Nelson. Prior to that she worked as a technical editor for the Secretariat of the Pacific Community in New Caledonia, and as a fisheries scientist in Tonga, where she raised her two children. Her early career was spent as a primary school teacher for 12 years, in NZ and overseas. She has a BSC in Zoology from Victoria University and a BA Hons in Classics from University College London.