Our blogger Elsie's approach to food waste and sustainability is rooted in values instilled in her by her mum.
I was never very much a foodie in my youth. Being blessed with an active metabolism, I didn’t pay much attention to what I ate. I only cared that it quelled the hunger pangs. Food, to me, was nothing more than a form of sustenance for my body.
Fortunately for me, my mother was quite particular about nutrition and what her children ate. She subscribed to an ancient Chinese food classification system that has nothing to do with the food pyramid. All foods are classified into one, or a combination, of five properties based on their perceived nature -- han (cold), liang (cool), ping (neutral), wen (warm), and ri (hot).
The theory is based on finding balance in the body with food.
If you had a particularly bad outbreak of acne, or perhaps felt constipated, or maybe felt the beginnings of a sore throat, chances are you have too much “fire” in your body and need to be balanced with foods of a “cool” nature. Likewise, an onslaught of diarrhoea might be an indication of too much “wind” in your digestive tract which should be counterbalanced with warm or hot natured foods.
That was the yin and yang of food wisdom passed down from my mother. While there is no scientific evidence supporting her claims, it has worked for me throughout the years. In particular, it has taught me to be more in tune with my body and to listen to what it’s telling me. It has taught me to pay attention to what I have ingested and assess its impact on my wellbeing.
The other thing that my mother instilled in me and my siblings is the value of food, or rather a respect for the preciousness of it. Food wastage was a no-no in our household. Every grain of rice was precious, as was every morsel of food, and even every last bit of sauce on a plate. It had nothing to do with deprivation. Sure, we weren’t rich but we weren’t deprived either. It was a simple philosophy of respecting that which sustains our lives.
“There are a lot of children in the world who have nothing to eat.”
“Farmers do back-breaking work for us to produce these grains. We must appreciate their efforts.” and “There are a lot of children in the world who have nothing to eat.” were my mother’s oft repeated mantra in her dogged pursuit of inculcating a no-waste mindset.
“The God of Thunder will strike you if you don’t finish your food.” and “Make sure your bowl is clean if you want your spouse to have a smooth face.” formed part of her repertoire too. After all, what’s a decent Asian household without a healthy dose of superstition?
The other thing that my mother instilled in me and my siblings is the value of food, or rather a respect for the preciousness of it.
So whether it was empathy for the farmers or the threat of divine retribution, her lessons worked beautifully on her children. Even today, I often think about what it takes to produce a grain of rice, albeit at a more macro level now and across the entire supply chain.
I watched a documentary called “War on Waste” some years back and could not be more horrified at the amount of food wasted in the supply chain. How can anyone fault a banana for being “too curved”? The notion was simply mind-boggling and went against the values I was raised with. Watching perfectly edible produce being decimated at source because they weren’t aesthetically pleasing was a painful awakening and an almost visceral one at that.
And then I realised that I too am part of the problem.
How many times have I stood admiring each and every perfectly shaped apple in the supermarkets? How many Instagram posts have I created of fresh produce, in all of their colourful hues, artfully stacked to please the eye?
The Australian Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment estimates that food waste produces 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions; and if food waste was a country it would be the third largest greenhouse gas producer, after the USA and China. Such is the environmental impact of food waste.
The United Nations World Economic Forum estimates that the world population will have increased to 9.8 billion by 2050, and the demand for food will be 60% greater than it is today. But climate change, urbanisation, and soil degradation will have shrunk the availability of arable land. How do we sustain food security into the future then?
Modern biotechnology plays an important role in alleviating food crises through research into crops that will have a higher resistance against plant diseases or increased tolerance of herbicides. But what impacts will these genetically modified foods have on our bodies? More than that, do we even have a choice in a future heading towards food shortage?
Such big questions that I have no answers for.
But I believe eliminating food wastage is part of the equation and in my current tiny household of two, that is where we will start. I hope you will join me on this journey too.
Sending you many well wishes,