A Culture of Waste

Food is a necessity. Since the beginning of time, animals have had a primal instinct to guard their food to ensure that they always have enough to eat. As humans, we ought to share these instincts to covet food as something precious – so why is it that cultures across the world have traditions of deliberately wasting food?

TomatinaConsider La Tomatina, the annual Valencian festival in which citizens and tourists from around the world gather to pelt each other with tomatoes in the city streets. One would think that the event might have originated one year when there was an excessively plentiful harvest, such that the townspeople found themselves with more tomatoes than they could possibly use. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. The story of the festival can be traced to 1945, when an angered man began hurling tomatoes from a nearby vegetable vendor at his friends. Bystanders quickly took up tomatoes as well, and the messy melee that ensued has since been repeated annually. So, the event is nothing more than a glorified food fight in which participants chuck perfectly edible tomatoes at one another.

GingerbreadLiterally throwing fresh vegetables is the most blatant example of waste, but there are plenty of other, less obvious customs that misuse food. In western culture, for instance, there are the holiday traditions of carving Jack O’ Lanterns and decorating gingerbread houses. While it is perfectly possible to eat the insides of the pumpkins hollowed out for Halloween decorations, most people just throw them away. In 2014, British newspaper The Independent even published an article about how Britons toss about 18,000 tons of pumpkin around Halloween every year. Similarly, gingerbread houses are perfectly edible in theory and probably were meant to serve as cute desserts when they first became popular in 16th-century Germany. However, the bland gingerbread pieces and the colorful icings and adornments sold today are usually so artificially sweet that it’s not only unhealthy but downright repulsive to try to eat the candy constructions. Moreover, they tend to go stale as they sit out as decoration.

No, I’m not trying to launch a global initiative to end all food-wasting customs and celebrations. The idealist in me would like to, but the realist knows that people would only consider abandoning these traditions if they were facing a severe food shortage. After all, these practices are defended as ‘culture.’ Still, the least I can do is urge you to keep this in mind as the food-wasting holidays approach. This page offers tips specifically for preparing a former-Jack-O-Lantern for cooking purposes, and you can find plenty of recipe inspiration in this gallery. When December rolls around, construct gingerbread houses that are actually appetizing and find people to share them with.

If you aren’t convinced that the concept of wasting food ‘just for fun’ is appalling, at least consider the money you could save by actually eating the food that you buy rather than just decorating with it.


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