My awareness of food waste started when I was still a kid. Whenever I don’t want to eat what was prepared on our dining table, My Mom would say, “Huwag kang magsasayang ng pagkain at magagalit ang grasya.” (English translation: Don’t waste your food as it is grace from God.)
As a child, I never understood what grasya or grace means. But being the obedient child that I was, I always comply and finish everything that is on my plate. Eventually, it became a habit that I’m still practicing even up to this day.
As I grew up and started to become aware of the interconnectedness of events, I started connecting my parents’ stories about our grandparents, their upbringing, and how they relate to our family today.
Sustainable consumption is a family core value
Sustainable consumption is among the important family values on both sides of my family. This has been passed to me and to my sister by my parents, which was also passed to them by our grandparents.
Practicing sustainable consumption is a byproduct of the extreme poverty experienced by my grandparents during World War II. After the war, they had very little money with them, left with lands to plow. They couldn’t afford to buy food, so they produced their own. Their furniture was either handed down or Do-It-Yourself (DIY). Appliances were not a thing. According to Mom, their family’s only appliance then is a phonograph. And she was proud because no one in the neighborhood had that equipment at that time. And this went for food supply as well.
Having experienced having almost nothing, my grandparents put value even on the little things they acquire. Sustainable consumption has become evident in our furniture, our appliances, and other miscellaneous objects within our house. Far from being a hoarder, our family ensures that everything broken is repaired before buying a new one. If not worth saving, they will go to the junkshop to be sold at a certain monetary value.
And this goes to food as well. Food is sacred. Vegetables and fruits are treasures. Fish is highly valued. Meat is a gem. Every rice grain is a symbol of a farmer’s sacrifice. Hence, the 11th commandment in our house, thou shall not waste food.
A Family of Food Producers
I came from a family of food producers.
My Lolo (English translation: Grandfather), my Mom’s father, is a farmer and a fisherman. As their home was in a town boarded by a mountain and a lake, there was an ample supply of natural resources which served as the source of their nourishment. Owning a vast area of agricultural land, my Lolo’s family relied on subsistence agriculture and fishery; hence, it is natural that his ten children, including my Mom, were required to work in the field.
Similarly, my grandparents on my father’s side of the family are farmers. My Lolo and Lola (English translation: Grandmother) used to produce their staple rice. Without access to machinery, they manually conduct all their activities- from land preparation up to harvesting, even up to drying. Rice cultivation is a delicate process — harvesting only happens twice a year and everything that would be produced in one harvest season must sustain their household needs until the next harvest season.
Growing up in a seed-to-table set-up, my Mom would share how subsistence farming was not the most enjoyable activity. It requires so much effort and sacrifice. The effort means pouring intense physical labor and enduring the extremes of tropical climate. The sacrifice means forgetting about your non-farming dreams and dedicating your precious time to feed your poor family.
Zero Food Waste: A Family Policy
My sister and I are lucky, Mom would say. Living has become better. We can just easily purchase agricultural produce from a local market. We don’t need to endure the scorching heat of the sun. We need to only do the things that we want to do– no farming distraction that could hinder us in reaching our dreams.
However, even though we are not farmers, my Mom would always remind us, “but it doesn’t mean that you will not value the labor people put in growing and preparing your food.”
Here are some of the unwritten rules in our house to prevent food wastage:
- Put on your plate only what you can finish eating. No to plate waste!
2. It’s okay to repeat meals.
3. Master your cooking. A delicious home-cooked meal means no leftovers.
4. Share your food.
5. Upcycle your ‘ugly’ food. Ugly vegetables? Turn them into delicious patties and balls. Overripe fruits? Turn them into bread. Spoiled rice? No problem. Dry them and turn them into a rice snack.
6. Do not store food in a wet container.
7. Do not let steam/vapor accumulate in the pot cover.
8. Adding a spoon of vinegar to your rice water can delay the spoilage of your cooked rice.
9. Unwanted cooked food can be fed to stray animals.
10. Vegetable trimmings and fruit peels are duck’s favorite.
11. Unsavable food? Worms in the soil can enjoy them.
Of course, some of the mentioned techniques may not be culturally acceptable to some. Regarding food safety, I haven’t experienced a bad stomach so it must be alright at a household level.
But just like many, zero food waste is not always achievable in our home. There are days when we don’t feel like consuming it all. There are overlooked expired cans in our cupboard. There are still fruits and vegetables which go to the trash bin. Food spoilage is not always preventable. And we feel guilty about it.
But we will try to do better in our responsible eating journey because mindful food consumption is more than just an act of sustainable living for us. It is our act of dedication to our grandparents. Our act of valuing their sacrifices.