Those of you who follow this blog know of my love of volunteering; I only discovered the joy in doing so once I retired but in those few years volunteering has become a staple in my existence. I do so love the ‘warm’ feeling I get from engaging in efforts which I know will directly assist other people but the real beauty is how much more I get out of my actions than I invest! As such volunteering for me is a true ‘win-win’ situation. My first love was working with elderly dementia victims; this was brought about by regularly visiting my mother as she slowly succumbed to the horrific ravages of that wicked disease Alzheimer’s. In hindsight it’s a miracle I even tried this work as I had no formal training and as so many who knew me across the decades pointed out I did not suffer fools gladly. But for some reason I found the patience and especially the empathy to enjoy working with such folks. Herein lies another wonder of volunteering; it caused me to really push my comfort zone and try things I never would have thought of doing. This same situation is reflected in the volunteering I do at the local radio station (KTNA 88.9 MHz/ktna.org); as a young child I spent years in speech therapy and was never comfortable speaking in front of other people. Yet now I handle the Friday evening newscasts and host a music show on Monday evenings. Volunteering has also proven to be a well-spring for developing new friends and acquaintances; this was essential as when I relocated to the outskirts of Talkeetna I knew no one.
While I enjoy my KTNA efforts they are largely something I do because I enjoy live radio although I know it also helps out KTNA by filling air time with local broadcasting and the station is the only source of timely news, weather, announcements and local information for the upper Susitna Valley. The work I currently do that really nourishes my spirit involves volunteering with the Upper Susitna Food Pantry (aka ‘the Pantry’). By investing just a few hours a week I know that I am helping insure that local families and individuals are getting more nutritious meals and in some cases even meals at all. Most of my time involves driving to specific warehouses (those that handle receiving ‘Food Bank of Alaska’ donations) in Palmer and Anchorage to sort through donated food stuffs, load up my vehicle and haul my load back to the Pantry where it’s cataloged and then distributed. I truly enjoy interacting with the representatives from the other 10 to 12 food charities in the Mat-Su Valley. We meet at these warehouses on specific dates just in advance of an arriving semi loaded with donated foods. We then divvy up the food, get it segregated and weighed by group, assist each other in loading our vehicles and haul our loads. The folks are really great people and I really love just interacting with them.
The ‘Food Bank of Alaska’ does a great job in collecting a variety of foods and getting them to these locations where generally they are completely utilized by the charities. But sometimes there are remnants and sadly many times they go to the dumpster or refuse collection point. It breaks my heart to see perfectly edible food being just thrown away. The food we see is completely edible but sometimes has cosmetic defects – mainly fresh produce – or has passed its shelf life. As such it’s deemed ‘donate only’ although it’s still completely safe to consume. Having spent twelve years in food manufacturing and food R&D as well as obtaining a BS from Michigan State University in Food Science I understand the potential liabilities with such food products most of which we can thank the damn trial lawyers for exacerbating. But as a culture we have some very ‘unrealistic’ concepts regarding what is edible and what is not; it’s these concepts which cause us to be so wasteful. Because of my background and experience I know the general costs associated with most food groups; this goes far beyond what the foods might fetch on the open market. So when I see a pallet of bananas destined to be dumped because they are brown and a bit ripe I recognize we are truly wasting good food. I’m not suggesting we learn to eat ‘green’ meat or fuzzy bread but certainly could eat much of what we currently deem as garbage. The aforementioned brown bananas can be frozen and then used in bakery products or in drinks. People often throw cheese out when it shows a bit of mold yet with a sharp knife on can easily remove the mold and a bit of the cheese as well such that the mycelium and similar contaminants are separated from the otherwise perfectly acceptable food. One should also remember many cheeses would not exist were it not for molds and their actions. I could go on and on but you get my drift.
The United States literally does feed much of the world and as such we are in a unique position to be able to begin to affect changes in our own cultural beliefs regarding what is edible. For so long we’ve been so rich that it was viewed as almost our ‘right’ to waste food but such times are coming to and end. As the earth’s population continues to increase there are more and more mouths to feed but we continue to deplete our soil base and have to turn to ‘mega-farming’ to economically continue to crank out huge quantities of basic food stuffs. Over the long haul such practices are most likely unsustainable; they will be further negatively impacted by climate changes. Now is the time for we Americans to begin to really recognize that our gift of fertile lands, copious water sources and farming technology is not without limits and we must work to better live within these limits. On a longer term I can see where currently unacceptable food sources will have to be utilized; insects as a source of protein is just one of these sources. To most Americans the thought of consuming ‘bugs’ engenders feelings of disgust but it’s amazing what hunger will do to one’s perspective regarding food. If in doubt just talk to someone who has spent five days in the wild with only the clothes on their back!
Currently our difficulties in feeding our own people stem mainly from distribution issues and can be solved. But we will soon face honest food shortages if we continue on our current path. It really is time to reassess what we as a culture deem to be unacceptable for consumption as food; all too often what we view as ‘garbage’ would gladly be accepted as wholesome food by others. So allowing such foods to simply go to waste is unacceptable. We need to learn from those around us who are more than willing to consume what we currently term as ‘refuse’; it’s a simple case of one person’s garbage being another person’s treasure..!