Condensation from lukewarm gallons of milk and the blood of red meat were dripping to the floor. A pile of moist cereal boxes were crushed and spilling. A tired cashier grabbed a mop while gazing across a sea of abandoned carts and spoiled food. In October 2013 12 several Wal-Mart stores in Louisiana allowed shoppers to use their EBT cards without limits while the system was down. The EBT outage affected shoppers in 11 states. In most locations Welfare recipients were simply not allowed to shop (although varying state laws do allow for a contingency plan that should have allowed shoppers a small allowance.) Reports came in of shoppers stealing up to $700 worth of food and filling 8-10 carts. Some shoppers were stuck with full carts as the glitch was discovered. Carts of food were left at the door to spoil, and in many cases the sheer amount of food shoppers brought home was more than could be properly stored and eaten without spoilage.
In the Bible a hungry group of Israelites would have gladly pushed shopping carts across the desert. They feared starvation so much so they longed for their slavery days which their minds somehow skewed to be better, full of plenty, while they were in Egypt. Stuck wandering in the desert they cried out to God and Moses for food. The Lord provided them with manna- a sweet bread that could be gathered in the morning. Anyone who, out of lack of trust in God, took more than they could eat in one day would have spoiled rotten food by the next morning. It stunk and was full of maggots. Sometime later the Israelites complained about the manna and asked for meat. God provided quail from the sky. He gave them quail for a month, so much that He said they would “loathe it.” He then sent a plague on the people. Numbers 11:34 says, “Therefore the place was named Kibroth Hattaavah,because there they buried the people who had craved other food.”
Humans will do whatever it takes to fulfill basic life needs. In elementary school we learned that a human’s basic needs are food, shelter and water. In our modern American society cell phones and internet have been added to that list of the basics. We struggle to put limits on our standards of these basics. We desire a certain quality and variety of food, we want an “open concept” living space like HGTV and we buy natural spring bottled water. In order to fulfill those basic needs we do whatever we can to have enough and we have trouble knowing what “enough” even means.
According to a recent United Nations report, about 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted each year. Estimates are between 30-50% of all food is wasted worldwide. In developing countries, most food that is wasted is lost due to lack of proper storage and transportation options. (Food Security, Bryan McDonald.) Much of the waste happens before families even purchase foods from the store, and yet 14-25% of the food we have in our refrigerators is thrown away.
As the old saying goes, “Waste not, want not.” Perhaps it would help to know why we waste. There are lots of reasons that food is wasted in the farm to store stage, but here we will focus on those that affect us as American refrigerator owning consumers.
Fear. The Israelites showed us one reason we waste – fear. We keep too much (or in our case- buy too much) out of fear we will not have enough. In buying more food than we can eat, the extra goes to waste.
Greed. Greed was on full display when the Wal-Mart shoppers took advantage of the EBT shutdown. Greed may also display itself in buying mass quantities of unneeded items at the warehouse club or wiping out a shelf of snack crackers that had a triple coupon deal. It is important to probe the heart when going crazy on a “good deal.”
Poor Household Management. How often are things stuck in the back of the fridge and forgotten? I know this happens in our homes more than we like to admit. Lack of meal planning leads to more shopping. More shopping, more waste.
Spoiled? There is plenty of confusion about “sell by” dates and expiration dates. When in question most of us throw food away. Food dating exists to indicate the freshness of the food, when that product will be at its peak. Spending a few minutes googling whether a package of three week old eggs should or should not be thrown away could save dollars- and breakfast.
Fickleness. Children are picky eaters and it’s easier to throw away their food than to have a fight. Honestly the whole family can get bored of a certain dish and toss the leftovers. Putting half a casserole in the freezer for a later date could save it from the garbage disposal.
Just as with the Israelites thousands of years ago, our relationship with food and waste has a spiritual element. If we were to really consider stewardship of food a spiritual issue perhaps we would eat differently. Inexpensive food gives us the idea that it can be thrown away without consequences. At the same time millions of people in other parts of the world are starving. If we were have necessity for optimal nutrition in mind and a firm grasp on quantities necessary to feed our families America may have additional opportunities to spread resources to other parts of the world and lower global rates of poverty and starvation.