We are all told from a very young age that it is essential for our growing bodies to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables in order to stay healthy and happy. We may not always like the fruits or vegetables that our parents try to get us to eat, but they are still important and contain plenty of nutrients that our bodies need. What we are likely not told about is the amount of energy it takes to actually grow, store, and prepare those fruits and vegetables.
If you have ever tried to grow a garden in your backyard or even in a window box, you are probably aware that it takes time, energy, and plenty of water to get plants to grow. Some vegetables and fruits are heartier than others and require less water in order to thrive and produce, but others consume lots of water and sunshine. Take that experience of trying to grow a small garden and increase it exponentially to acres of farmland. The amount of energy it takes to grow fruits and vegetables on a large scale to be sold to grocery stores is incredible, so it is important that we as consumers do not waste the food that is produced, even if the fruits and vegetables are considered “ugly”.
It is natural to think that food provides humans with energy when we consume it, but we rarely think of the energy consumed by the food itself. This may seem like an odd thought, but it’s true. Food production requires a great amount of energy, so it is integral that we as a community reduce our food waste as much as possible. Generally, you can divide the energy consumption needed for food production into four categories: agriculture, transportation, food processing, and food handling.
To begin, the actual growing process of food production is responsible for a large part of the energy consumption and involves the use of gasoline, diesel, electricity, and natural gas just to grow and cultivate acres of crops. There is also fertilizer and pesticide production which can indirectly consume energy resources. Once the crops have been grown and harvested, they then need to be transported from farm to market to table. Obviously, this requires some type of motorized vehicle which utilizes gas, so more energy is consumed by those vehicles. Even a farmer who sells directly to consumers at a farmers’ market still needs to transport his produce to the market, so some energy is still consumed.
Processing and handling are the second grouping of energy consumption when it comes to food. Sometimes raw foods need to be transformed into a different product. For example, corn needs to be processed before it can be sold at a grocery store as cereal, and the procedure of making a raw vegetable into a consumable product takes quite a bit of energy. Finally, handling of the food takes up the majority of the energy used and includes activities such as refrigerating milk at the supermarket and then again once the consumer buys it and brings it home.
Without actually thinking about it, we don’t realize how much energy is consumed by food rather than energy being given to us by consuming food. As a community then, it is important that we recognize the immense amount of energy used to produce the food we buy at a grocery store and make sure that the food is not wasted.
In the food production business, there is regular produce that you have probably seen in the grocery store waiting for customers to come in and buy it, and then there is “ugly” produce. These are the fruits and vegetables that don’t grow quite right when they are in the farmers’ fields or may have some bruising. As an example, most people have seen a bag of carrots in the produce section, and each carrot is long, slim, and orange. However, not all carrots grow so perfectly. Sometimes they are crooked or curved due to a rock in the ground or extreme weather changes. So why don’t you see these “ugly” carrots in the store?
Most supermarkets will not buy “ugly” produce from farmers because they do not believe that customers will purchase them. Surprisingly, about 20% of all U.S. produce will never enter the grocery store; rather, it will either remain in the field where it grew or be taken to a landfill. This is an extreme waste of both food and energy used to make that produce. There is nothing wrong with the crooked carrot; it just looks funny. But people will still not buy it and the carrot goes to waste. So, what can be done?
The best way to reduce food waste like this is to buy and eat “ugly” produce! It tastes the same and has all of the nutrients and benefits of regular produce, so there is no reason not to buy the crooked carrot. If your regular grocery store doesn’t buy “ugly” produce, encourage them to do so or switch to a farmers’ market so that you can buy the “ugly” produce right from the source. It’s time to embrace the funky veggies and reduce food waste!
At Watt Watchers of Texas, we are dedicated to helping everyone in the state of Texas do their part in helping to reduce energy waste and make a concerted effort toward conservation. We have resources, information, and activities designed to help schools and homes rethink their energy consumption and conserve precious resources. And we especially want to get your kids involved, so we have made the Watt Watchers Student Patrol Program.
Your kids can join Lil’ Tex and Ann as official Watt Watchers in their quest to save Texas from the dreaded Wasters Gang. Whether they are at school or at home, kids can make sure that no energy is being wasted.
Contact Watt Watchers today to learn more about our energy conservation activities and how you can get involved.
We'd love to help answer any questions and help you get started! Drop us a line and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.
Watt Watchers of Texas
204 E. Dean Keeton Street, Austin, Texas 78712