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Didn’t Clean Your Plate?

Food waste is good business

Did you get enough to eat at your Thanksgiving feast?    
    Yes, thank you.
    For most Americans, enough is not the problem.
    We live amid abundance so great that, try as we might, we can’t eat it all up.
    Whole cultures could survive on our waste. Indeed, the cultural dropouts who call themselves Travelers make a lifestyle of doing just that. Dumpster diving is a compound in our dictionaries, and Freegans unite to reduce the “wastefulness of our consumer society.”
    Food is big on our plates this time of year, and that’s where I’m headed, if you’ll read along with me.

Big Picture Digression
    The qualities that make you great are also the ones that bring you down, according to the people who gave us the concept of tragedy. So for Sophocles — as for Shakespeare, who adopted the ancient rules — the terrible stuff that happened to you didn’t make your life a tragedy. How you use your strength is the issue.
    Abundance is America’s greatness. We’re a vast land, rich with natural resources, inspired in imagination and motivated by profit. Abundance is also our problem. Nuclear waste, space waste, war waste, post-consumer waste, food waste: All are unsolved afterthoughts of our abundant production cycles.
    Were it not for a few thoughtful — and mostly invisible — people, we could be buried in our own waste. Like life coach Nancy Jo Steetle —who in last week’s paper gave thanks for the people who make her trash pickup easy at Heritage Harbor — I am thankful for the people who take our waste out of our lives: our plumbing engineers and plumbers; our sewage system and wastewater treatment designers and workers; our garbage collectors and recycling coordinators; and our compost makers.
    This time of year, I’m especially thankful for the people who deal with our food waste.

Scraping Our Plates
    Scrape the plates after Thanksgiving dinner, and you see the tip of the iceberg. Everybody’s eyes are bigger than their stomachs. What do you do with the waste? At my house, the veggies the kids leave on their plates go into the compost.
    Kids don’t eat dressing, either, but the dog is glad to take care of those leftovers (except for the kale stuffing in the Maryland ham) as well as any leftover turkey, ham and pie — hold the apples.
    Uneaten pie apples go into the compost, along with the apple cores and all the egg shells, stems and outer leaves of Brussels’ sprouts, kale leaf ribs and pumpkin innards that fill my gallon-sized compost container faster on Thanksgiving than on most any other time of the year.
    I learned to compost from my mother, whose immigrant poverty, compounded by the Great Depression, taught her to never waste a thing. Following her example, husband Lambrecht and I’ve made the hard clay garden of our Southern Maryland home rich as the black earth he brags about back home in McLean County, Illinois.
    What would I do if I lived in the city, 12 stories up in a highrise with no earth to call my own?
    Thanks to reporter Ashley Brotherton — who enlightens us all about food waste in this week’s paper — I’d know to call Compost Cab, at least if I lived in D.C.
    Our residential kitchen waste, yours and mine, is overwhelmed by the piles of waste created by industrial kitchens.
    I don’t dare let myself think about really big military or college or prison kitchens. I don’t want to imagine, for example the amount of food waste created right here in Annapolis at the U.S. Naval Academy, where all 4,576 midshipmen eat their meals as one big happy family.
    Or supermarkets, where the waste volume of perfectly good food is staggering. At Bay Weekly, we’ve done some research into where that food goes, and lots of bakery goods and produce does go to food banks. But an October 30 Washington Post comparison of roasted supermarket chickens floored me. Some stores — Whole Foods and Fresh Market among them — cycled unsold whole chickens into deli food. Others trashed them.
    Those mountains of food wasted are raw material to entrepreneur Vinnie Bevivino of Chesapeake Compost Works. Ashley interviews him this week, and in her Conversation, you’ll read how the profit incentive is making food waste the growth sector of America’s booming trash economy.
    On a larger scale, companies like Chesapeake Compost Works, Compost Cab and others you’ll discover in this week’s paper are duplicating what my kitchen compost has done for my yard: Making waste into riches.
    Thank heavens for American ingenuity!

P.S. I can’t write about compost without noting that our own Bay Gardener, Dr. Frank Gouin, is the original academic expert on composting all sorts of waste, from crab to lobster to almond to chicken to yard to garbage.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; [email protected]