Gleaning: The Gleaming Hope for Reducing Food Waste
The French Middle Ages are back! But this time, you can keep your modern kitchen appliances (like your spice grinder that is PERFECT for our citrus powder recipe that inspired this post).
We all know that hunger, both domestically and globally, is a HUGE issue that is hard to solve (roughly 1 out of every 8 Americans struggles with hunger, let alone has access to healthy produce!)
On the flip side, America is one of the leading countries for food waste with an estimated 50% of our produce being thrown away! While part of that astounding number can be attributed to the obsession with "picture perfect" food creating picky consumers, most of this waste is due to produce that doesn't even make its way onto our shelves.
So what can we learn from our French friends of medieval times? Well, as French painter Jean-François Millet depicts in his painting the Gleaners (above), gleaning is the process of collecting excess produce from farms in order to donate it to those in need. This produce goes unused for a variety of reasons: having touched the ground, being excess crop, or simply being unattractive. As evident through this painting, gleaning was a common practice in medieval France, where a 1554 French law even encouraged the poor to pick excess produce because it was a simple way to solve two problems: hunger and food waste.
So, now are you surprised that this practice is making a comeback? As America has already implemented some policies to help reduce food waste (the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act and U.S. Federal Food Donation Act of 2008 just to name a few) this is still not enough! Instead, we should be looking to programs such as the Gleaning Network through the Society of St. Andrew to expand the gleaning footprint in the US. By prioritizing gleaning, we not only increase access to healthy food, but also shorten the distance between producer and consumer - an efficient model that minimizes our carbon footprint by eliminating excess packaging and travel! Sometimes the best things come in small (or no) packages, so we should all try getting involved in this not-so-revolutionary movement!
Photo courtesy of Musée d’Orsay, Paris