I’ve written before about food waste and the alarming fact that 40% of food produced in the United States ends up being wasted.
This isn’t something I ignore, but it’s not always at the top of my mind. It came up again recently, though, when I went to a clean energy conference in Boston.
One of the sessions focused on creating a circular economy, which is an approach dedicated to minimizing waste and making the most effective use of our resources. Composting is part of this approach since it helps with food waste.
But one of the panelists, a woman from a company called Organix Solutions, reminded me that composting has another benefit. It encourages mindful eating.
As she pointed out, getting a better sense of how much food you toss helps you pay attention to your food choices. Once I started thinking about it, I realized that composting and mindful eating are very interconnected.
1: Composting Increases Food Awareness
If you’ve never composted before, you might not notice how much food goes into the trash. It’s very much “out of sight, out of mind.”
When you compost, though, you have a clear understanding of the amount of food waste you generate. You can see the compost bin fill up, and it makes you think about what you’re buying, especially if a lot of what ends up in the compost is spoiled food.
You might also start to notice patterns. For example, maybe you keep buying lettuce, intending to make salads – only to end up tossing almost the whole head because you never used it and now it’s gotten brown and slimy.
This lets you start to evaluate what you’re buying and what you’re eating, so you can better balance the two.
2: Composting Helps You Appreciate Food
Another bonus with composting is that it makes you appreciate food more, but it took me a while to realize this.
Growing up, we always had a compost pile, so it seemed normal to me. Then I went to college and discovered that we were the exception, not the norm.
It bothered me, but after five years of living in Boston, and then moving back to Maine and living in Portland, I’d gotten accustomed to not composting. I still didn’t like it, but since I didn’t own land, I didn’t have a good alternative.
That’s why I jumped on board when Garbage to Garden started in 2012. I signed up as soon as I could for curbside composting, and I’ve never looked back. I’m always happy to put out my bucket on Friday mornings, and when I can, I even rescue spoiled food at work to add to the compost so it doesn’t go in the trash.
I was relieved to be able to compost all the scraps from my fruits and veggies, but that’s when I noticed something else.
I started to appreciate my food more.
Part of it came from being reminded that all parts of the food I was eating had value, even the parts I didn’t eat. When I thought about how those apple cores and root ends of vegetables and the occasional bits of slimy lettuce could replenish the soil and produce more food, it all had more meaning for me.
It also helped me remember where our food comes from, and that it’s not something I should take for granted. A lot of work goes into growing, watering, harvesting, and transporting all the food that enters my house, and composting reminds me to be grateful for it.
And when you feel grateful for food, and truly appreciate it, you’re more apt to eat it mindfully.
3: Composting Reduces Food Guilt
Finally, if you know you can compost food scraps, you might not feel as guilty when you don’t clean your plate. If you end up composting a few bites, you can remind yourself that the food isn’t going to waste like it would be if you threw it in the garbage.
That sense of guilt is something a lot of people struggle with. The “clean plate club” is a powerful motivation to keep eating, even when you’re not hungry, simply so the food doesn’t go to waste.
This is especially true when you know that Americans throw out about 150,000 tons of food every day, and how that waste contributes to greenhouse gases. Composting helps, but it still took a lot of resources to grow or raise the food you didn’t eat.
Still, this is a learning process, and we all make mistakes.
If you end up with more food than you want, but you don’t have enough to use for leftovers, composting it is still a better option than throwing it in the trash.
Composting is also a better choice than overeating, which will make you feel uncomfortable, lethargic, unfocused, maybe sleepy, or worse. None of that is very useful for going about your life and work.
To be clear, I’m not advocating routinely composting large amounts of food that you’ve bought and realized you’re not hungry for. But that’s usually not a problem with mindful eating. As you become more aware of your eating patterns, you can start to better judge how much food you really want and need so you don’t take much more than that.
It’s All Connected
Turns out that composting and mindful eating truly are related, as are so many things. Recognizing those connections, and making decisions based on that awareness, is what mindfulness is all about, however you start.
Have any of your own composting stories to share? I’d love to hear them! And in the meantime, here’s to raising food awareness, staying grateful, and being mindful of our choices.