Why Not Wasting Food is More Important than You Think
You already realize that once TSHTF, food will no longer grow on trees.
Well, okay, to the literal-minded of you, of course, apples etc will still grow on trees. What we mean is that food will no longer be cheap and plentiful, requiring no more effort on your part than a drive to the local supermarket and paying a relatively small amount of money for a relatively large amount of food.
Instead, for most people, providing food for their family will become pretty much their primary activity for most of most days, and they’ll have little spare food left over from their labors.
So, obviously enough, if you waste, say, 10% of the food that comes into your house and kitchen, that means you have to work 10% harder than if you didn’t waste that food.
But there’s another issue that might be more subtle, but which is almost as important.
Saving on Food Means Saving on Water and Energy Too
Yes, food will become very precious and in short supply. But one or two other things will also almost surely become very precious and in short supply too. The first of these is water. Depending on where you live and your water sources, you may find that at some times of the year (or, worse, at all times of the year) you do not conveniently have as much water as you might wish.
The second of these is energy – particularly in the form of electricity, but also more generally in the form of heat and fuel.
So let’s think about the first of these things first, and the second thing, second. If you have a water shortage, you probably do things like take shorter showers, right? You’re probably also careful to not flush the toilet more than necessary, and perhaps go easy on washing dishes and clothing too. Maybe with some care, you can reduce your domestic daily water consumption from 75 – 100 gallons per person down to 50 – 75 gallons, and if you are fastidious, you could get as low as 25 – 50 gallons.
But the greatest need for water is outside your retreat. It is in the fields, where you water your crops and feel your cattle and other farm animals. You will probably use 100 times more water in the fields for agricultural purposes than you do in your retreat for household purposes. So here’s the thing – if you can cut down your food waste by even 2% or 3%, then if you don’t need to grow 2% or 3% more food, the water saving from this will allow you to take long showers whenever you like.
Perhaps the extreme consumer of water is growing cattle. Depending on your preferred study and analysis, it takes anywhere from 440 gallons to 2500 gallons of water per pound of beef that ends up going in your pot. If we take a half-way point of 1500 gallons, and if we say you use 50 gallons of water a day, each pound of beef represents a month’s water supply. That’s not a problem if water is plentiful, but if it is scarce, then it is a massive constraint.
A pound of chicken requires ‘only’ 500 gallons of water. A pound of corn requires 110 gallons, a pound of wheat 150 gallons, a single egg requires 400 gallons, and a pound of potatoes only needs 10 gallons of water. (Go to this page, guess at the values, then submit the form for the correct answers and data sources.)
Although your food savings may allow you to take longer showers, they will probably be cold. Because there is the other constraint that you’re sure to be facing – energy shortages.
You can probably guess what we are about to say. Growing your food requires a lot of energy – either your energy, or energy from horses and other animals that are helping you, and/or energy from farm machinery if you have fuel for them.
Indeed, you can get locked in a nasty cycle – growing crops to convert into bio-diesel and ethanol to power the machines you need to use to grow the crops you need to power the machines. That’s a nasty loop to get into.
The bottom line for energy however, is the same as it is for water. Small savings in the net amount of food you require and consume will translate to bigger savings in the energy you need to produce the food.
Almost Half of All Food is Currently Wasted
Currently, we live in an extremely wasteful society. At present, estimates suggest that 40% of all food in the US is wasted, uneaten. Waste occurs at all steps of the process – in the field, in distribution, and in the supermarket – not just in your house of course, but household waste is still a large and controllable part of this.
One could even say that at present, with food costs low, it makes sense to waste food. It can be more of a hassle, and more of a time cost, to not waste food. For example, carrots cost $1/lb or less, and potatoes maybe 20c/lb. If you earn $30 an hour, taking five more minutes of time to save a pound of carrots or potatoes doesn’t make sense. The five minutes of time is sort of worth $2.50, whereas you are only saving between 20c and $1 from an activity that has a ‘time cost’ of $2.50.
This is a far from perfect calculation, however, many people perceive, and more or less correctly so, that currently the time costs of being frugal outweigh the savings involved.
The present reality is reflected in other forms too. For example, if you have a choice between making some vegetable soup from scratch, or opening a tin of Campbell’s soup, many people will reach for the Campbell’s. Making it yourself might save you $1 in ingredients, but might cost you half an hour or even an hour in extra time. Ignoring issues such as the quality of the final finished soup, most people understand the value of saving an hour of time and will choose the commercially prepared soup.
But this will all change when the food you eat is not grown by low-cost labor and high levels of mechanization, with no appreciable shortages of anything, probably thousands of miles away and speedily/efficiently flown from their field to your front door, but instead is grown with little mechanization and probably by yourself and your immediate neighbors only.
You are more likely to find that it takes you much more than five minutes of time, as well as lots of resource, to grow a pound of carrots or potatoes, and so if you can save a pound by spending five minutes doing something, it is time well spent. And as for those cans of soup – they won’t exist at all.
So, how to reduce food waste? It is easier than you think. Here are four simple considerations.
1. Change how you prepare food to minimize waste in preparation
Try to change your cooking style to minimize the waste. For example, scrub rather than peel potatoes, and the same for carrots. This will not only reduce your waste, but will increase the nutritional benefits – much of the vitamins and minerals in vegetables are closest to the outside.
If you trim the stalk off broccoli or cabbage or whatever, consider using that for a soup base.
The same thing for the water you boil your vegetables in – that is now a rich nutrient broth of vitamins and minerals. Reuse it the next time you boil vegetables, then use it for broth or soup too.
Soups (and stews) will become your friends. They are both great ways of using up leftovers, and reducing the amount of waste that would otherwise occur.
Okay, you can still trim some fat off your meat, but in what is almost certainly a more active lifestyle, maybe you can leave a bit more fat on the meat than you normally would.
2. Change the type of food you grow
Oh – one more thing about meat. Beef is by far a more energy and resource intensive type of meat to raise than pork or poultry. You know that pork is cheaper than beef in the supermarket meat case at present, but the real difference in cost, when you have no subsidies, is much more than double. Plan to raise pigs, and go easy on the beef.
You’ll of course want (need!) to do a similar thing with the fruits and vegetables you grow as well. The crops you raise will be determined of course in part by the climate and soil conditions you have, and by the need to rotate crops, but also by which items will give you the greatest yield for the least amount of effort and energy.
At present, with home gardens, people have the luxury of growing the vegetables and fruits they most enjoy, but in a survival situation, you need to switch to those items which return the most nutrition per unit of energy, water, and time expended on your part, and which yield the most output from the smallest amount of ground. Sure – you might have 10 acres around your retreat to cultivate, but the less distance and more compact your gardening, the more efficient its management becomes when you are more likely to be walking than driving everywhere.
You want to consider seasonality of when foods need to be planted and can be harvested, and also storage issues. A fruit or vegetable that doesn’t last long and can’t be easily stored for extended time (eg lettuce) is not nearly as sensible a choice as something that can be stored and consumed over the winter season. Chances are you’ll be growing plenty of potatoes, which are not only a high yielding crop but also a crop that can be stored for an extended time.
3. Change what you do with cooked food to minimize leftover waste
Adjust the quantities you cook so you don’t end up with too much leftovers that eventually get tossed out, uneaten and spoiled. Sure, it makes sense to cook in moderately bulk quantities – that can be both time and energy-efficient, but don’t overdo it, and also remember you always have to guard against appetite fatigue setting in.
Be careful at ensuring that you properly store and eat any leftovers you create – for example, quickly cover and refrigerate leftovers after cooking them.
There is nothing worse than leaving a pot of something, especially uncovered, on the stove and allowing it to naturally cool. As the item cools, it goes through a temperature band which represents the ideal temperature band for bacteria, yeasts and molds to grow, and anything that might land in the item from the general air, or perhaps be introduced by handling, will find itself in an ideal environment to grow. Keep all pots covered, and once you’ve finished serving out the food, quickly cool them then prepare them for storage, ideally in sealed containers with little or no headspace for air.
At present, with plentiful cheap energy, it is fine to cool things in the fridge, but in an energy scarce situation, you will probably choose to cool them with a water bath before then refrigerating them.
Depending on the item, cooked food may last longer than raw food, so plan what you have in the way of raw food and how/when you cook it. As we said in the preceding paragraph, stews and soups will be your friends. Don’t let appetite fatigue set in – you must vary your meals, but you also will find that some types of food preparation work better for you than others in terms of the ‘yield’ of edible food compared to raw food you start with, how much energy it takes to cook the food, and how long the prepared item lasts and can be eaten.
4. Don’t throw away any food items – use everything in some way or another
Disable the waste disposal unit in your sink and instead place a filter over the drain so that no food goes down the drain and all is salvaged for some purpose.
This will help you two ways. It will salvage a lot of food scraps that otherwise would disappear, and it will reduce the biomass inputs into your septic system (we are assuming your retreat will almost surely have a septic system). Remember that pretty much all the solid that goes into the septic system will sooner or later need to be cleaned/cleared out of the tanks, and when you consider that after TEOTWAWKI, you can’t just call the local septic pumping service and have their truck come up and do it all, as if by magic, in an easy simple procedure. You’ll have to do it yourself. It will be smelly, dirty, and nasty; definitely something you want to do as infrequently as possible.
Any truly waste food unfit for humans should be fed to animals if possible. And if that still leaves some items left over, put them into your compost bins.
Your life in a Level 3 situation will be defined and constrained by two related factors – the amount of energy available to you, compared to the amount you need; and the amount of food available to you, also compared to the amount you need.
Because growing food is an energy intensive process, anything and everything you can do to minimize your food needs will be beneficial, and help you better manage both your food needs and your energy needs.
With food, the adage ‘a stitch in time saves nine’ is very true. Every reduction in the amount of food that goes into your kitchen will greatly pay off (maybe nine-fold, maybe more) in reducing the inputs you need to grow the food in the first place, giving you a better lifestyle overall and/or making you hopefully food ‘wealthy’ rather than food ‘poor’.