We spent two days last week on The PediaBlog (read here and here) becoming aware of the vast amount of food that is wasted every year — enough food to feed billions of people all over the world! The Environmental Protection Agency reviews other benefits of reducing wasted food:
- Saves money from buying less food.
- Reduces methane emissions from landfills and lowers your carbon footprint.
- Conserves energy and resources, preventing pollution involved in the growing, manufacturing, transporting, and selling food (not to mention hauling the food waste and then landfilling it).
- Supports your community by providing donated untouched food that would have otherwise gone to waste to those who might not have a steady food supply.
Melanie Hingle suggests four low cost/no cost strategies to reduce household food waste:
1) Plan and purchase only what you need for the week.
2) Prepare what you can consume or freeze for later and use those leftovers.
3) Share food with others or buy BOGO and split the costs.
4) Compost organic materials DIY for less than $25.
Compost can be further repurposed to support an urban garden, which you use to supplement your plate with vegetables and herbs, whose consumption positively impacts diet quality and reduces chronic disease risk.
The point of these last three PediaBlog posts is to increase awareness to three simple facts. As Americans:
- We buy too much food.
- We eat too much food.
- We waste too much food.
“Mindfulness” is a term that comes up a lot in popular media lately. It’s more than just the art of perception — of becoming aware of what’s going on around you. It can be about anything you set your mind to. Ordering food in restaurants and buying food in grocery stores is often impulsive — if it looks good or smells good and sets off positive associations in our brains, we are more likely to buy it. (It also doesn’t help us as consumers if we are hungry at the time of purchase!) Thinking about what we’re prepared to put in our mouths to fuel our bodies by breaking down food’s components into what’s useful (protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, fiber, anti-oxidants, etc.), what’s pleasurable (sugar, salt, alcohol, etc.), and what simply tastes good (real foods like fruits and veggies, processed foods with a chemistry lab of ingredients, and anything in between) is “mindful awareness” that Donald Altman says can protect you from overeating while allowing you to enjoy your food. Here is one tip we’ve discussed on The PediaBlog before:
Remove distractions. Psychologists have shown that when we watch more TV or are distracted while eating, we’ll consume up to 28 percent more food than if we are present with our meal. So turn off the TV, radio and other technology while eating. Another idea is to collect all the cell phones before the holiday meal and place them in a basket. This will remove the temptation to focus away from the meal. It will also make for more engaging conversation.
Altman says mindfulness when eating means slowing down and savoring your food. Putting down your fork or spoon between bites and taking a big, relaxation breath before the next bite can slow down the process of fueling up our bodies with food and give the brain the 20 minutes it needs to get the signal from our stomachs that we’ve had enough. This can also help slow eating down:
Chew your food completely. Did you know that chewing slowly actually helps digestion? That’s because there’s an enzyme in the saliva – called amylase – that helps pre-digest starch. To begin, notice how many times you typically chew your food before swallowing. Ideally, see if you can chew thoroughly, noticing how your food turns from solid to liquid. Then, set the intention to swallow. In this way you bring full awareness and intentionality into each bite – as well as aid in digestion.
Finally, it’s mindful to think about where your food comes from. What natural and man-made resources did it take to grow and raise, harvest and slaughter, transport and store, package and sell the food that has made it to your shopping basket and table? Only after considering the efforts of nature, of farmers, and of technology and commerce can we truly appreciate and be thankful for our bountiful harvests.