Last night at our regular extended family dinner, we spoke with my mother about her life in her village of birth in the northern reaches of Italy. She migrated in the late 1950s and has deeply etched memories of her life there and some retention of the skills she acquired. She recounts stories of keeping livestock, growing food, making soap, collecting firewood, milling chestnuts for flour, and preserving food for the winter months. Nothing was wasted and the work of the day was directed to meeting the most fundamental needs. As she says, “If you didn’t do it, you would starve and freeze”. It’s a knowledge that hasn’t been passed down generations as my own attempts at growing and preserving food seem to flounder.
Lately, there have been reports of a glut of fresh food in the markets, produce that will rot unless sold. Australian households collectively waste $1.1 billion worth of fruit and vegetables per year. Two supermarket chains control food distribution in Australia and set high stands for fresh produce. There is a need to keep food out of rubbish bins and landfill. Ozharvest reports that an estimated 20-40% of fruit and vegetables are rejected before they reach the shops – mostly because they do not match the supermarkets’ excessively strict cosmetic standards. Wasting food is also a waste of the resources it takes to grow and distribute it. While some food can be recycled into community composting programs, much of it ends up in landfill where it generates carbon emissions without replenishing soils. A simple domestic commitment like growing food or accessing food wholesale and preserving it can enhance our food security, health and sustainability. The private suburban resources of land and kitchen can be productive – sharing intergenerational know how and the resulting preserved fruit and vegeatables in a community context to enhance social relationships.