Why I Believe In Killing Waste
*This post is from my thoughtful and beautiful wife, Holley. Her witness and beauty on this is well worth sharing.
Here’s another box of Jell-O…..yup, that one expired in 1985 too….here’s a cake mix….wait, nope, 1989 expiration….
My maternal grandfather worked all his life as a boilermaker in the steel mills of Pittsburgh. Being a union worker, he never knew when he would go on strike. To battle this uncertainty my grandmother would buy extra food and create a stockpile because a strike would mean no paycheck and thus no groceries.
When my grandparents moved out of their house in the early 2000's, we began cleaning out the basement pantry and found a surplus of items that had expired not years but decades before. Pushed into the dark nooks and crannies, high on shelves, these long forgotten boxes and cans sat for years and collected dust. A sunk cost, so to speak.
What I learned from this experience was that I did the same thing in my own home. I stockpiled. I always felt like I needed to have a certain amount of canned goods in the cupboard or meat in the freezer. I learned to do that from my mother, who had learned it from my grandmother. And while my grandparents did it as a means of survival in tough times, I did it absentmindedly. Carelessly. Wastefully. Things would expire, money wasted.
Think about these sobering stats:
- American families waste about 25% of the food they buy annually.
- According to the National Resources Defense Council, Americans waste $165 billion annually in throwing out food, that’s $529 per person each year.
- A family of four wastes $2,000 a year by throwing out food.
Where could those resources have been used to benefit someone else’s life? When I think about that number I get frustrated and angry – first and foremost at myself for not being more diligent in using my resources but also for not being more aware of waste in our lives.
A friend of mine had read Jen Hatmaker's book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess with a group of women. In the book Hatmaker looks at seven areas that create excess in our lives ranging from social media, clothing, and food to name a few. She finds ways to, for a 30-day period, eliminate the excess in her life.
My friend’s group tried the experiment for seven days as opposed to 30, and what they took away was a desire to make this practice sustainable and ongoing in their life.
She decided to not grocery shop the last week of each month and her family would just eat what was in the house. They would take the money that normally would have gone to those extra groceries and find a charitable way to use it.
I have to admit, I was so struck by her idea that I mulled it around for about a week. I knew this was something we could try, that the noticeable absence of excess food would make teachable moments for our seven year old, and for us. And thoroughly inspired and encouraged by my friend, we decided that we too would not shop for a week’s worth of groceries each month and donate that money to a charitable organization.
This month was our first attempt. I am a planner and an organizer and I plan out our meals for two weeks at a time and grocery shop accordingly. So this month, I decided I would only shop for one week’s worth. But a curious thing happened as I started planning meals, opening cupboards and staring into the freezer. I kept jotting down meals that I had all of the ingredients on hand to make. I found forgotten items in the freezer that with some ingenuity I could make into a good meal.
And the result of all of this was that I couldn’t find one week’s worth of meals to make with all the excess in my tiny kitchen - I actually was able to make TEN meals. Ten. And with the money we didn’t spend on groceries we were able to make an incredible donation to a charity near and dear to our hearts, one that works to eliminate childhood hunger.
The challenge was that we couldn’t say, "There isn’t anything to eat, let’s go out." The challenge was that we had to become more intentional with leftovers. We may have had to eat sloppy joes on hot dog buns because that’s all we had or have just veggies and rice one night. It meant that we had some icky apples that were made into homemade applesauce.
It meant that while we may have sat down to eat as a family, everyone was eating some sort of different leftover. But that "thrown-together" feeling, that disconnect was what gave us pause. It’s what keeps us thinking about children in our own community, families we may work with, go to church with, pass on the street, who will go to bed hungry tonight.
In the end, it all comes down to living a life of stewardship. I have had to relearn what that means in many areas of my life. For this lesson, it meant unlearning that I need to have a healthy stockpile of cans and boxes and meats on hand because really, I live within two miles of an Aldi and a Target. I will never be without access to food. There are so many who cannot make such a bold statement. And, if I am called to a life of good stewardship, it’s my job. No, it’s my honor, to partner to help those. It’s my duty but also my joy to be more meaningful with my resources so that others can have resources. It is my mandate and my desire to be more thankful and less wasteful.
I went to buy lunchmeat the other day and intentionally asked for ½ a pound since we usually end up throwing it out if I buy more. The deli clerk didn’t hear me and put a pound on the scale. I politely told her I only needed ½ of that and with the flip of her wrist she grabbed half of the lunchmeat and tossed it off the scale into the garbage can behind her.
Into the trash can. The waste container. The garbage.
I believe that we have become so content and comfortable living in the land of plenty that we have become numb to the wasteland we have made it into. We have lost our grip on the call to stewardship that being a follower of Jesus means. I believe we are called to better, intentional living in a way that our excess can actively impact the lives of others, where we can have the ability to free up something of ours to benefit another person.
What excess do you see in your own life? Where can God free something up from you to use in the life of another?