Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Food Foolish Files #2: The Magnificent 7th Banana (A Parable)

In chapter 4 of Food Foolish, John and I write about the magnificent banana.  It happens to be the world’s favorite fruit.  Americans eat 27 lbs. of bananas on average each year.

Me, I eat a banana most every morning.  I talked myself into thinking that bananas stop my legs from cramping after I run or bike, but the truth is I just like them.   I figure at 300 a year, I eat about 936 ounces (@ 4 ounces each less 22% for the peel), or about 58 lbs. of banana.  That makes me very close to an expert on the topic.  A 58-Pound-Gorilla, so to speak.

Bananas come in bunches.  (You can quote me on that.)  So when I buy a bunch I might get, say, seven bananas.  (Remember, this is a parable.)  The first banana on the first morning is kind of hard and not real sweet.  The third and fourth morning’s bananas are perfect.  And the last morning?   Well, sometimes it’s not pretty.

But first, skip ahead in Food Foolish to page 125.  (What?  No copy yet?  See here!)  A study done in 1939—in the midst of the Great Depression—determined that the average UK household wasted about 3% of its weekly groceries. 

A recent study pegged the average weekly UK household food waste at about 25%.  What happened?

First, we’re not picking on the UK.  This level of food waste happens across the board, in the US and in developed countries around the world.  The underlying logic is tragic but simple: When incomes rise, more food is wasted.  Said another way, when food is a smaller portion of disposable income, it’s no longer as precious to us.  We buy too much, cook too much, serve too much, and throw too much away.

The grocer plays a part in this as well, though not intentionally.  From where I live I can drive seven miles to maybe seven grocery stores.  (It’s a parable, remember?)  Every single one of them will have aisles of perfect fruit and vegetables.  The bins are always fully stocked.  The illusion is that somehow, magically, an endless supply of perfect produce just bubbles up from the floor.  Take a bunch and another appears.

That excellence in merchandising, courtesy of our grocer friends, tricks us into thinking that it’s all just so easy.  (See pages 35-36 of Food Foolish for what it really takes to get a banana to market.  It’s called "the cold chain" and that's the magic.) 

And so—back to our parable--what used to happen to my banana #7?

It got a little black.  It got a little mushy.  Since a new bunch of perfection was only a few miles and a handful of pennies from home, I threw #7 away.

For sure, I could have made banana bread.  (Not.)  Yes, banana daiquiris are good (especially at 7 a.m. before work).  True, supply chain guys, I could have bought 6 instead of 7.  (Can I get a little poetic license here, please?  This is a parable, after all.)  But. . .mea culpa: Sometimes I would throw the 7th banana out.

That was until John and I researched Food Foolish.  Three percent food waste during the Great Depression and 25% food waste when times are good?  That logic is tragic and simple—but avoidable.

So, I’ve stopped tossing out the 7th banana.  The magnificent 7th banana.

And that same thing seems to happen every single time I discuss Food Foolish with someone, or they read the book and begin to connect food waste with hunger, wasted water, squandered land, and climate change.  They stop taking food for granted.  They see it for the wondrous resource it really is.  Food becomes precious again. 

In fact, when food is inexpensive, abundant and precious, it’s the best of all worlds.

So, knowledge really does turn out to be power.  Eat the banana.  Make banana bread.  Drink banana daiquiris.   Buy 6 instead of 7.  Almost all of us want to be good global citizens--and can find ways to do so. 

Which is just exactly how a good parable is supposed to end.