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Enough

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Heartbreaking. Horrifying. Profoundly preventable.

Heartbreaking. Horrifying. Profoundly preventable.

Cheery fellow I am, I like to play a game called "Would I Eat This If It Was World War II?"

The "game" goes like this: Before I throw away food, I imagine I'm a starving civilian, soldier or prisoner of war and, if I'd eat the food in question in that situation, I get over myself and eat it in my present situation.

Basically, if it's not going to make me sick, I'll try to work it into a casserole or stir-fry, toast it, roast it or juice it (dinner at my place, anyone?)

If the bread's mouldy, I cut off the mouldy piece. If the fruit's bruised, I eat the good bit. If the chicken, steak or cheese is anything less than "restaurant quality", I remind myself I'm not in a restaurant and utilise one of the many methods our grandparents used to make stale food palatable.

Understand, I'm in no way trying to trivialise the deaths of the millions who died from starvation during WWII. In fact, this "game" began after reading Primo Levi's staggering account of his survival in the Auschwitz Nazi death camp, If This Is a Man.

Levi's descriptions of hunger - how a ladle of soup taken from the top of a cauldron (just broth) or the bottom (perhaps containing some vegetables) could mean difference between having the energy to work the next day and thus avoid execution - made me realise just how privileged is my relationship with food.

It also made me understand I have never felt true hunger, like the desperate Russian citizens of Leningrad during the two-year-long Nazi siege (them again) who cooked leather belt soup and mustard cakes, ground tree bark into flour and crushed pine needles for vitamin C.

True hunger is not missing a meal, writes Levi, it's having no idea where your next meal will come from, when you've been hungry so long you can't "imagine not being hungry".

Walking the aisles of our supermarkets it's easy to forget - or try to forget - there are people just like us, our lovers, kids and grandparents experiencing this sort of hunger right now in countries as diverse (and close) as Indonesia, India, China, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Ethiopia.

According to UN's World Food Program, more than 900 million people go to bed hungry, many of them children who'll be permanently cognitively and physically damaged by malnutrition, if they're lucky enough to live.

A few years ago, the Ghanaian philosopher and Princeton University professor Kwame Anthony Appiah asked in The Washington Post: "What will future generations condemn us for?"

He argued once upon a time "beating your wife and children was regarded as a father's duty, homosexuality was a hanging offense", slavery was condoned and women forbidden to vote.

"Looking back ... it is easy to ask: What were people thinking?" wrote Appiah.

You'd have to wonder if future generations will ask the same of us when they regard our attitudes to world hunger, what Oxfam's Duncan Green recently called "one of the most extraordinary and humiliating aspects of living in the modern world".

"Providing the additional calories needed by the 13 per cent of the world's population facing hunger would require just one per cent of the current global food supply," writes Green.

And while there are complexities to this issue such as infrastructure, war, corruption and climate, let's not delude ourselves the chips and salad we leave on our plate in a restaurant or the chicken we discard because "it's smelly" don't contribute to this problem.

The more we use, the less for everyone else.

You can follow Sam on Twitter here. His email address is here.

59 comments so far

  • Food is one of the greatest gifts you can give someone. If it is made with love, or out of concern or not knowing what else to do.
    I hate discovering that vegetables have gone squishy and slimy or something in the fridge that has gone furry and threatening becoming its own ecosystem.
    I have similar habits to my Grandmother who has been dead for 20 years and I keep the miniscule piece of cheese or slice of tomato or skerrik of salad which I truly plan on eating in the very near future. Then I get distracted by something shiny and forget about it and it ends up having to go in the bin anyway. And then I feel bad for wasting food.
    Now I am back to living alone after having a flatmate for a time and I need to re-learn cooking in reasonable portions instead of cooking like the postcode is in starvation mode.

    Commenter
    M
    Date and time
    October 29, 2012, 9:25PM
    • Sam - food wastage is a big problem, having a capitalist system producing the food however is a massive problem. The companies producing it dont care where it goes they only care that they get paid. Change the system

      Commenter
      Franky
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      October 30, 2012, 10:58AM
    • Nothing repulses me more than food fights in American movies...Absolutely disgraceful!

      Commenter
      Ibadah
      Date and time
      October 30, 2012, 3:15PM
    • Ibadah I didn't say anything about food fights. I was talking about giving care packages as gifts and to guests to my house. Throwing food is a waste of a perfectly good meal and if anyone did that with food i had prepared they would be ejected from the premises and never invited back.

      Commenter
      M
      Date and time
      October 30, 2012, 3:37PM
    • "instead of cooking like the postcode is in starvation mode"

      Are we related?

      All I need to hear from you is "EAT! You look hungry!" and you will successfully sound like every female in my family.

      (I never look hungry)

      Commenter
      hired goon
      Date and time
      October 30, 2012, 11:24PM
    • One practical solution is for supermarkets to sell perishable food, meat in particular, in smaller quantities e.g. sell mince in 200g or 250g packs instead of the standard 500g. Sell steaks and diced lamb etc in smaller sizes. Then you will cook less, throw away less, and appreciate it more. Now as we move to preservative-free meat, it doesn't last long in the fridge or as long in the freezer, which makes this more paramount.

      Commenter
      The J Dog
      Location
      Ivory Towers
      Date and time
      October 31, 2012, 9:14AM
  • I don't think it makes that much difference; food isn't really fungible. Perhaps if you habitually bought twice as much as you need it would drive up prices and reduce the amount of food, but only in Australia. If you really want it to have an effect on world poverty you'd work to reduce the amount you spent on groceries and then donate that left-over money to a charity.

    However, what you describe is a good practice for another reason: It reinforces an attitude of care. If you begin by not wanting to waste food, you often quickly move onto not wanting to waste other resources. Then you begin to notice how much garbage you buy; when people buy fruit in a polystyrene tray wrapped in plastic they are literally buying garbage, just to send to the tip. Then we can start looking at how the food was produced, whether its production sends pesticides and fertilisers into waterways...then it's everything you buy.

    So cutting the bad bit out of an apple is like saying grace: It reminds you to be thankful for what you have and that you should be responsible in your actions.

    (BTW: If you do donate to a charity to send food, make sure it buys the food locally first. Otherwise local farmers can get priced out of the market, unable to sell their food, and end up leaving their farms...)

    Commenter
    JEQP
    Date and time
    October 30, 2012, 1:57AM
    • JEQP, it does make a difference. If i make a meal out of things left over in the fridge. I don't need to order that pizza or buy more groceries. I've immediately reduced my consumption and waste output. On another note, if you can set up a composting system then even the truly inedible items from your fridge will go to good use and keep nutrients in the food chain. Use your compost on your veggie and herb gardens and you are reducing inputs and increasing outputs.... the permaculture dream!

      Commenter
      Rusty
      Date and time
      October 30, 2012, 10:31AM
    • Hi Rusty,
      Sure, a whole meal is a good thing to save, but it still won't help other people who are hungry unless you take that $20 you didn't spend on pizza and donate it.

      Composting is great - I've been doing it for decades and my wife teaches that. Whenever we have a party the buckets go out: Paper, glass and pet, organic, hopefully gets people to think about it. My main driver for doing that is slightly different (although the soil is good): Decomposition of organic matter in garbage tips is a big problem because of the anaerobic decomposition. Better to have aerobic composition in your backyard.

      On a side note, I often have no idea what is in my fridge. I'll open a tupperware container and see ... something ... that is probably delicious if prepared properly but I have no idea how to do that or even what is in the container. The joys of Mexico.

      Commenter
      JEQP
      Date and time
      October 30, 2012, 3:26PM
  • Sam, one of your best ever, in my opinion. Whilst we can't individually fix world and yes, even local hunger, collectively by lessening the demand for things we don't need must surely make a difference in the long run and lets those resources be better utilised. We waste so much. The glorification of food, especially in our own culture has now become one of the classic symbols of our excess. This article is the exact reason why I detest show's such as Masterchef, My Kitchen Rules etc. I really struggle to find food as an entertainment option, especially when we have kids in not only other countries, but our own suburbs that are going to be hungry today and tonight. Unfortunately, I can't articulate myself well enough to state how I feel about these things, so this article does it perfectly.

    Commenter
    Gaz
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    October 30, 2012, 7:53AM

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