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Amuse Bouche: Waste not want not

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By Scott Mechura EBS Food Columnist

Recently, I listened to a woman on a popular news outlet list, as one of her concerns of global warming, imminent global food shortage. This immediately caused me to question that statement.

Imminent? That’s a strong word.

It seemed a preposterous comment, given what I knew about food production, handling, regulations and waste.

Years ago, I spent two days on a fascinating tour in California’s Salinas Valley, otherwise known as “America’s salad bowl.” 

I scolded myself for being so naïve as to be shocked when I saw the amount of lettuces and salad greens that were casually discarded on the valley floor. Kicked, stomped, dropped and driven over like trash, as much of these foods are harvested, an equal amount is not.

And that was but one field, in one valley. 

Then the strawberry fields. Before you pine over the Beatles song, most every strawberry that is beautifully ripe never sees the inside of a clamshell. But rather, the ones that do get packed in the fields for sale are predominantly white. The reason being that if they’re ripe at that point, they will be moldy, rotten or otherwise subpar by the time it makes it to your local grocery store shelf. Seems logical enough. However, I watched as those wonderfully crimson little gems were discarded over the shoulder of a young migrant worker like a kid on the beach looking for the perfect seashell.

For most of the African continent, daily caloric intake per person has increased each decade since the 1960’s. Most Africans take in, on average, about 1,500 fewer calories than Americans on a daily basis. On the surface this sounds like an alarming discrepancy, but when you eliminate Hot Pockets, Ben & Jerry’s, Chick-fil-A and Krispy Kreme donuts from the American diet, the calorie intake, turns out, is almost identical.

Perhaps you’ll recall my experience from a previous article in which I had a brief confrontation with a woman at a Bozeman convenience store when I tried to stop her from throwing away three large boxes of frozen pizzas simply because their dates were expired (an oddity in and of itself, given the amount of preservatives in a frozen pizza.)

Expiration dates are cause for a shockingly high amount of food waste. Milk’s dates in particular change from state to state, and the most inconsistent in the nation is Montana. By using the classification “best if used by,” an unbelievable amount of milk goes down the drain. 

Finally, according to Tara McKenzie of the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia, almost 90 percent of tomatoes harvested from just one Queensland farm get discarded. Markings, odd shapes, too small or too large are all grounds for dismissal. 

These are but a few examples into the world of wasted food, poorly distributed food and a painfully large degree of government involvement and regulations. 

With annual traditions like the Nathan’s Hot Dog eating contest and television shows like Guy’s Grocery Store Games, to my way of thinking, we don’t have a food supply problem, nor will we ever. It simply doesn’t pencil. What we do have is a disconnect with diet, which foods should be prioritized, and what real food is.

So the next time we’re told that climate change is causing a global food shortage, reflect on how disrespectfully we regard food that our cultural vanity allows us to discard a perfectly good tomato, simply because it isn’t pretty. 

Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is a former certified beer judge and currently the multi-concept culinary director for a Bozeman based restaurant group.

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