Food & Finance

I received my W-2 statement in the mail today. After taxes, insurance, and other standard deductions, I brought home $26,632.12 in 2017. When you add in our side hustles ($1161.58), our total income for the year was $27,793.70. I mention this for two reasons. One, so I can marvel for a brief moment at the sheer awesomeness of living simply. If you had told me a decade ago that I would be living successfully on less than half of my then income…on purpose…and loving it…I would have called you crazy. The bank holding the note to my SUV, my suburban townhouse, and my camping trailer would have concurred. Today, looking at that W-2, I feel proud. I feel accomplished. I feel good about choosing time over money and I wouldn’t go back for every dollar in the world.

But…that’s not the only reason I mentioned our income. I wanted to use it as a real world example for today’s post on food waste.

Over the weekend, we watched the documentary film, Dive! If you substituted Angie and me for the folks making the film, this could have very easily been the story of our lives – minus all the meat. Everything they found – right down to the limes – is stuff we find in our own dumpster all the time. Blueberries, strawberries, bread, eggs…you name it, we find it. More than just the fact that we had similar dumpsters, what really stood out to me was that this film and their attempt to improve food waste conditions in CA was made in 2009 and yet here we are, nearly a decade later and 2,031 miles away, living the same story.

In the film, Jeremy Seifert makes a very valid point – Americans spend so little of their income on food that it has essentially lost it’s value. When we don’t value something, we have no qualms about throwing it in the trash.

At the time the film was made, Americans spent 16% of their income on food every year. Currently, we spend 6.4%; less than any other country in the world.

And still, we waste more than 1/3 of that.

Why? Because the scale of our personal economic impact is so small it doesn’t matter.

Let’s do the math. 6.4% of our income essentially means that 6 cents out of every dollar is designated for food. If we waste 1/3 of the food we buy, that’s 2 of those 6 cents. In reality, how much do we care about 2 cents? If the number of pennies that I find on the ground just walking into the grocery store is any indicator, then I’d say not much. But pennies don’t tell the whole story.

People don’t set out to waste food. We have every intention of eating what we buy but then life gets in the way. The apples rot before we get around to making that pie. The meat goes bad when plans change and we forget to freeze it. Or we get tired, bored, or disgusted with something before we finish it. And we throw it away because…it’s easy…it’s cheap…it’s not going to make a difference. Or is it?

Let’s try that math again. 6.4% of our income in 2017 would have been $1,779. In actuality, Angie and I spent more than double that amount on food last year, approximately 13% of our income (or $3,661.81). If we were “average”, $1,208 of that would have gone into the garbage as food waste. And that’s certainly not pocket change!

Perhaps you’ve been thinking about ways to improve your own financial situation this year. Skipping your morning coffee might put $500 back in your pocket for the year. Cutting cable will give you another $960. Heck, switching to Geico could save you 15% on car insurance (or so they say). But one of the easiest and most overlooked ways to start saving – simply reduce your food waste. Pennies do add up to dollars.

I don’t know about you but I’m not a fan of tossing money in the trash!

Food Waste Update

  • Wasted Food this week: 0
  • Total Wasted Food in 2018: 3 ounces
  • Found Food this week: 10 US pounds
  • Total Found Food this year: 43.75 US pounds

Keep up with our food finds in real time by viewing our Food Find Gallery.


I Can’t Eat That!

When you’re trying to reduce food waste, you suddenly become hyper-aware of everything you come into contact with. From the core of a cabbage to the strings on your banana, you’re always thinking, “Can I compost this?” If you’re eating a mostly plant-based diet, like we are, then the short answer is going to be yes. Anything that once grew in soil can be returned to the soil. Same goes for anything made from plants – like most paper goods. But what about baked goods?

That’s the predicament we found ourselves in this week. Right out the gate of our food waste project, we were handed a fruit cake. Yes, a fruit cake. And, as if that weren’t bad enough, it came alongside a box of awful tasting pumpkin spice cookies (made from one of those bagged grocery store mixes). Both containers sat on the counter for days. The fruit cake is still there, taunting me. (Notice how the photo makes it look way more appealing than it actually is??)

Let’s talk about the cookies first. They were break-your-teeth-off hard. Not the kind of cookie that makes you want to go back for another, that’s for sure. We couldn’t toss them in the trash but we definitely couldn’t eat them either, and we couldn’t compost them. Or could we? There’s some debate on the compostability of baked goods. On the upside, they will eventually break down in the compost bin. On the downside, they are most likely to attract every squirrel, raccoon, opossum, and bird in the neighborhood before they do. We ultimately decided to save them a step and just hand over the cookies.

Though not the optimal choice, feeding animals is still a few steps above the landfill.

My mom’s backyard is a veritable sanctuary for wildlife. She has birds of all shapes and sizes (even turkeys), small mammals, deer, and a lumbering little opossum that we affectionately call Otis. They come to her yard for one reason – she’s been tossing stale bread out the window every week for 30 years. Whatever your take on feeding backyard wildlife, we have yet to see one bird swell up and die from eating a crumbled biscuit. We do however see them come back in flocks year after year. Yesterday, we had 8 cardinals, 15 finches, and a woodpecker on the bird feeder, nibbling on birdseed infused with pumpkin spice cookie crumbs. On a side note, I also used some of those crumbs, created in the food processor, as a crust in the bottom of a pudding made of pureed acorn squash and apples. Unlike the cookies themselves, it was rather tasty.

But the fruit cake? There are only so many things one can do with a fruit cake when eating it is not an option. (I really did try. I ate one whole slice, washing it down piece by minuscule piece with a mug of hot tea.) Fruit cakes are filled with candied fruit and alcohol. Even if it were compostable, which I’m not sure it is, I can’t imagine putting those ingredients in our bin. And feeding it to animals? I’m not sold on that idea either. Otis stumbles around enough as it is without getting him drunk off a fruit cake.

In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to decide the fate of a fruit cake. We would never buy one in the first place. But gifts are a different story. You don’t want to hurt the giver’s feeling, especially when they’ve worked so hard and spent so much money to bake the world’s most hated cake and ship it to you. But you also don’t want to make yourself eat something you find unappetizing. For the time being, our fruit cake will sit in purgatory (on the counter). If you have any suggestions of how best to dispose of it or even make it more appetizing, we’re all ears.

Food Waste Update

  • Wasted Food: 3 liquid ounces (milk, salad dressing)
  • Found Food: 33.75 US pounds

Keep up with our food finds in real time by viewing our Food Find Gallery.