By Ben Eckstein, Energy & Sustainability Reporter
As an adolescent, I’ve not often taken notice of questions like: “Where does my food go after I throw it out?” or “How can we reuse food to help make even more food?” Recently I’ve paid more attention to the ecological impact of my life, and see that I really have not been very eco-friendly in my food consumption. I take too much and I throw a large amount of food away. I used to think that was okay. Then I did some research and found that:
- about 550 billion cubic meters of water is wasted globally in growing crops that never reach the consumer
- carnivorous diets add extra pressure, as it takes 20–50 times the amount of water to produce one kilogram of meat than one kilogram of vegetables
- the demand for water in food production could reach 10–13 trillion cubic meters a year by 2050
The experience of being a student at Darrow School has brought me to some realizations, one of which is that I am going to try to reduce my food consumption. At Darrow, we have a designated compost bin next to the trash can in the dining room. Every Wednesday during Hands-to-Work (the service program in which all Darrow students and faculty participate) the biodegradable compost bag and multiple five-gallon pails from the kitchen are emptied into a large outdoor compost heap. Other inputs, such as foliage from our ecological wastewater treatment greenhouse, and leaves from the sugar maples that we tap to make syrup are added to the pile, and once all of this material has converted to soil, it is transported to on-campus organic gardens and orchards where it is used to grow produce that is served in the same dining room where the compost was first collected. Other programs, such as “Meatless Mondays,” have been implemented to help the cause.
This got me thinking about the idea that food that has been thrown out can be used to grow healthier food, such as fruits and vegetables, without the use of chemicals. Compost is an excellent tool for gardens, and I believe that if more people had gardens and their own compost piles, it could sustain people through certain months of the year, decreasing the demand for sourcing those agricultural products from far away places. Then I wondered how much our consumer-driven society could change if we started reusing our food; how, in a matter of years, we wouldn’t be so dependent on products that were grown with chemicals in other countries. We would be living healthier and more nutritious lifestyles, and reducing the carbon emissions from the vehicles needed to get these products to the supermarket.
Along with taking notice of my own wastefulness, I have begun to take notice of the wastefulness of my peers. One evening while on line for dinner, I watched a girl take two chicken legs, a dinner roll, and potatoes. She then realized she wasn’t hungry, and threw her whole plate of food into the trash, disregarding the signs directing her to discard the potatoes and roll into the compost bin, and the meat into the trash. I was not upset by it because I know that many teenagers are not actively educated about how compost can both reduce waste and create soil, let alone about why these things are important. In many cases teenagers do not care because they do not know. Even at a place like Darrow, some still do not assume personal responsibility for their waste.
Part of the problem may be modern media that is busy telling us how to look, how to dress, and what to buy, but does not often tell us how to conserve resources. Where is the message about how to improve our lives without the help of the new iPhone or the new Britney Spears fragrance? In this consumer society, media offers an incredible tool to shape behavior, but it is rarely used to promote the practice of using less. I know firsthand that this message is not getting to teenagers. And that’s a problem. The first step to changing the world is to educate people about the issues. We need to start thinking about the next generation and how we are going to be the ones who make the choices that lead to a sustainable human future.
I know I am willing, but are you, my fellow teens?
Ben Eckstein lives in Canaan, NY, and is a junior at Darrow School in New Lebanon, NY (for more information, visit http://www.darrowschool.org). At Darrow, he serves as a prefect in the school's Hands-to-Work program, as an Admissions prefect, and an Art and History prefect. Ben was recently inducted into Darrow's chapter of the Rho Kappa Honors Society, which recognizes outstanding achievement in social studies. He also runs on the cross-country team and competes on the Ultimate Frisbee team. In college, Ben hopes to study the environment and outdoor education. You can reach Ben by comments to this blog or via Member Email.
Von Radowitz, John. "Half of the world's food is just thrown away." Independent. 10 01 2013: n. page. Web. 11 Jan. 2013. <http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/green-living/half-of-the-worlds-food-is-just-thrown-away-8445261.html>.