I recently saw a very interesting Vox video on food waste aptly called Food waste is the world’s dumbest problem.  Food waste is a really big problem. According to this video it’s such a big problem that if food waste were a country, it would be the third largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions after China and the United States respectively.

In the US roughly 40% of the food we produce never gets eaten. Food waste is the world’s dumbest problem

Overconsumption

Over the last year or so I’ve been delving more deeply into minimalism and of course I’ve also been applying (or trying my best to apply) the principles to my kitchen.

I think overconsumption is a very big problem in North America. As a society we tend to buy too much, eat too much, and keep too much stuff. Combine that with a very busy and constantly on-the-go mentality and before you know it you don’t even know what you have and every space is full to the brim with stuff.

I also think it’s more than an environmental problem or an issue of overconsumption. Too much stuff also clutters our minds. At least that’s been my experience. I’ve found a lot of clarity from cutting down on the stuff in my life but it’s a process and sometimes it’s a big challenge.

Minimalism in the Kitchen

Once of the things we found in our research is that people are uncomfortable with white space when it comes to food. So we love it in buildings or design, but when it comes to food we do not want to see empty space in our refrigerators on our plates, and so I really believe that in some subliminal way we’re just filling everything and if we just had smaller refrigerators that let us see everything that was in there that in itself would lead to less waste in our homes. Dana Gunter, senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defence Council

I won’t even get into the rest of the house (save that for another post I promise) but trying to cut down on waste and excess stuff in my kitchen has been a months long project that I’m not sure I’m actually making any headway on.

I try to clean the fridge at minimum every 3 weeks. I usually take everything out, wipe down the inside, wash the drawers if necessary, then wipe down each individual item before putting it back in. It gives me a chance to take stock of what’s in there and plan on ways to use it.

Still, it’s not enough. It’s starting to feel like a constant uphill battle because as soon as I’ve cleaned the fridge, things start to accumulate once again.

I’ve tried to think of strategies to deal with this, including:

  • Make a plan to use everything that’s in there and get back to “white space.”
  • Put a chart on the fridge detailing what’s in there.
  • Don’t buy anything until I have white space.

Sharing My Fridge Shame Challenge

A few weeks ago after seeing this Vox video I came up with an idea to do something more dramatic. I decided to take every single thing out of my fridge at the same time, put it all on the table and take pictures of it.

I thought it would be a good way to really illustrate the point and more than that, I thought it would be a good way to feel the gravity of it. What better way to get a handle on your food waste than by admitting to the world that you have a problem, right?

I’m embarrassed by this. I’m embarrassed because it shows a total disregard for the food. My dear grandmother in rural Romania who still grows most of her own food at 80 years old with her hobbled and nerve damaged hands would be shocked to see so much perfectly good food rotting away in the back of the fridge.

Smaller Fridge = Less Food Waste?

Part of the reason why we overbuy food is that we’ve got tons of space to store it in. Refrigerators have grown about 15% since the 1970s. Food waste is the world’s dumbest problem

It’s a very appealing theory and really plays into my love of the European approach to food policy but if I put my own feelings aside the argument falls apart.

It’s not about size

I don’t agree with the argument that fridge size contributes to food waste. Manufacturers make fridges in response to consumer demands. Making fridges smaller wouldn’t change people’s habits and in fact, I’m sure most places sell so called “euro style” fridges that are smaller…but how many people buy them?

If we made fridges smaller the problem of food waste wouldn’t be eliminated because it isn’t the size of the fridge but the mentality surrounding it’s use that leads to food waste.

One of the main premises in the video that really struck me is that there’s some research which suggests that we consider food more valuable before we put it into our fridges.

I thought about this a lot and I have to agree. I think part of the problem is that when food is displayed in a market it’s done with the intent to show it off. It makes us see the food and think about all the things we could do with it. It looks beautiful.

When we get home we put it in our probably cluttered fridges and then we forget we even have it.

For example, the other day I found this fig balsamic in my fridge that I had forgotten I even purchased. What makes it worse is that I debated about whether to even buy it since it was on the pricier end. At least it isn’t as perishable as produce, which I’ve sadly forgotten about way too much.

Rethinking Fridge Use

Rather than focusing on the size of the fridge my approach is to think about how it’s used. I’ve started experimenting with this concept of fridge zen, which to me just means storing food in the fridge the way it’s displayed in a grocery store. It makes it look beautiful and makes me want to use all the produce on display, the way I do in the grocery store. I get inspired just opening the fridge.

The strategy isn’t perfect by far. When I first implemented it (as shown in these pictures) my approach was to put non-perishables away in the drawers, since they don’t go bad, and to bring perishable things right out into view so I’m more likely to remember and use them while they’re at the peak of freshness.

Right away I can see that the greens on the top shelf is a problem, since it’s coldest up there and they’re more delicate than other types of produce.

Still Seeking Fridge Zen

These pictures were taken back in December. I was so proud of my fridge zen. It made cooking so much more enjoyable to have everything beautifully displayed, like my own personal grocery store. I think fridge zen is a lot of what inspired my super mindful approach to cooking in Butter Chicken With Love.

Beyond the aesthetic and experiential benefits, I think if we changed our mentality surrounding food a bit by honouring the food rather than just shoving it into a cluttered fridge it would go a long way towards curbing food waste.

The Struggle

I can’t say it lasted long. Life got busy again and the clutter started to creep back in.The same thing happens around the house. I have a theory that if you don’t get rid of all the clutter it spawns and spreads like it’s alive.

If my minimalism learning process has taught me anything it’s that it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a learning process in the truest sense. Sometimes it sticks, other times you take one step back for every two steps forward.

I got in with a grocery haul not long ago and I’m about to tackle the fridge again. I’ve wanted to get back to all-out fridge zen for a while but between going to Spain and preparing for our move to Amsterdam there just hasn’t been a moment until now.

So, all this to say that I’m going to keep seeking fridge zen even if it’s an uphill battle and I’m going to document my struggles here.

The benefits I felt during that brief time when I had it were worth the effort and ultimately we can’t expect to reprogram a lifetime of learned habits in a few months. It takes time to develop a new system and stick to it. It’s like a diet for your fridge.

Ps. If you’d like to share your fridge related struggles and successes with me on Instagram use #seekingfridgezen and tag me @ms.cristina.

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Author

My name is Cristina. I was born in Constanta, Romania and moved to Toronto with my parents aged five. Growing up I spent every summer at my grandparents homestead in rural Romania, which instilled in me a deep and consuming love for traditional culture. Back in Toronto I made friends from every part of the world, which sparked a longstanding love affair with the complex identities and traditions behind the cultures I encounter. For the last three years I've been getting to know American culture living in Royal Oak, Michigan with my Romanian-Canadian husband Bogdan and our American rescue dog Oliver. Culture and identity has been a defining part of my life and I love sharing my explorations in food and culture here. I also write about managing my multiethnic foodie kitchen, sourcing good ingredients, and travel. If you want to connect the best place to find me is Instagram (I'm always online :P)

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