Like a lot of people in North America, we grew up with influences from the Great Depression, the Blitz, two World Wars, and a general sense that food availability would not be stable.
Of course, for nearly everyone, this couldn’t be further than reality. Especially living in a city, where we have grocery stores, convenience stores, markets, and shopping malls available to us round the clock. And yet still this idea persists. And most people have the gigantic food pantry, or shelves full of food, or lazy Susans to Narnia that have so much food in them, you don’t even recall buying most of it.
“When did I buy a can of green beans?!”
Yeah, like that.
This idea of scarcity has been pushed into our heads by parents/grandparents who didn’t have enough, and by marketing firms who are pushing for you to buy as much as possible.
As a result, we have more food than we could ever need, and approximately 30% of our food goes into the garbage. That’s billions of tons ever year of perfectly good food that gets simply thrown out.
I spent almost a year unemployed, and basically had to stop buying groceries, other than absolute necessities. In that time, I made a point to eat everything I’d been storing in the pantry, cupboards, and freezer, and it took me MORE than a year to run out. In fact, I still haven’t completely, but it definitely changed my attitude towards food hoarding and waste.
So how do you stop hoarding, and eat your food? It takes a bit of a shift in thinking.
1. Stop thinking about “what do I want to eat” and instead “what do I need to eat”
We’re fixated on the convenience of being able to eat anything we want, whenever we want it. 100 years ago, you ate what came off your farm, when it was in season, and that’s all. If you have a head of lettuce that is going to spoil, then that’s what you make. Some meat that is approaching freezer burn? That’s dinner.
There are great resources for this like Supercook.com that make up recipes for you based off of typing in what food you already have.
2. Buy ONLY foods you know you will definitely need within the next few days
“OMG PINEAPPLES ARE ON SALE, LET’S BUY SEVEN!!!”
“I totally need a flat of Hamburger Helper even though I can’t remember having eaten it in the last year!”
Yeah, that’s how you get the pantry-o-crap. Make a plan of what you WILL definitely eat this week, and buy only that. Don’t be sucked in by the case lots, and sales, and 2 for 1s. If you threw out half of the head of cabbage last time, there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to do the same this time.
3. Avoid magical thinking
“Today I’m totally going to get my shit together, and home make every meal from scratch, bake my own bread, make the week’s lunches in advance, and not eat out at all”
Yeeeeaaaah, that’s not going to happen. Habits take a very long time to change, and sometimes Adulting is hard. With all the handmade stuff in my home, from dairy products, to soap, to jam, I still order takeout about once a week. If you don’t cook much, you’re going to have a hard time changing that overnight, and buying a ton of groceries with the expectation that you’re going to cook a ton of food is just going to get it all wasted.
Start small, and cook meals from what you already have at home. Replace only things you run out of and use often (milk, eggs, bread, etc.) and ONLY when you’ve run out. Find reasons to cook what’s already there, and use up what you have.
4. Donate the rest
Those green beans at the back? The cake mixes from the Nixon administraion? Donate them. There are a ton of food banks who would be happy for the donation, and you get to clean out the crap. Besides, even “non-perishable” food doesn’t last forever. If it hasn’t seen the light of day for 2 years, it needs to go.