The Food-Waste Disconnect

A perfect storm of circumstance ended in a coffee-filled rant on Facebook on Friday, and while I stand by those words (many of which were capitalized, and none of which were sensitive), it is convenient to have the luxury of a newspaper column to formulate a more civilized, if no less provocative, response.

The topic was food, and more specifically, food that has lost its luster.

The photo that started it all. Photo credit: Kim Wallace

The photo that started it all.

Far too many suburban and urban-dwelling Americans have a peculiar relationship with their food, in that they want it conveniently packaged when it comes into the house, and very conveniently removed when it has, in one way or another, served its purpose.

In recent years, a concerted effort has been made to recycle the ludicrous amount of packaging that allows the average suburbanite to consume his Lean Cuisine with the minimum amount of effort or wear and tear on his state-of-the-art kitchen. Consequently, Maryland now recycles 43% of its solid waste.

However, should our recycling eco-warrior leave that Lean Cuisine out on the granite countertop overnight, he is more than likely to open it in the morning, carefully scrape the contents into the trash can or garbage disposal, and even more carefully, rinse and fold the cardboard and plastic packaging for deposit in a blue bin.

No compost pile, Heaven-forbid no chickens, and no thought as to where that food is going and how it could be better utilized – it is estimated that Maryland currently recycles a mere 15% of its food waste.

Now, I’ve gotten used to being lectured about green initiatives and global warming by friends who conduct the conversation over the sound of dishes being scraped into the sink; or trash cans being opened to receive the contents of week-old refrigerator fodder; or indeed, over the sound of an idling V8 engine. And apart from the odd snarky comment (what is friendship without thrust and parry?), I tend to leave such matters alone.

I’ve gotten used to being lectured about green initiatives and global warming by friends who conduct the conversation over the sound of dishes being scraped into the sink

But on Friday, a fellow Frederick County Master Gardener sent around a photo of a trash can in front of a single family home in Frederick.  The trash can was not at issue.  The six large winter squash sitting next to it were.  I snapped. It was the final straw – I have seen too many similar scenes around my own neighborhood.

Let me paint you a picture dear reader, and allow me to do so whilst reserving the right to generalize in the most absurd of terms – as is the prerogative of any entertaining columnist making a point.

In October, Hapless Harry Homeowner forks over a tidy sum for a seasonally decorative and highly tasteful front door tableau (as denoted by the presence of a white pumpkin). The minute the turkey is consumed and half of the family has left the table to shop the Black Thurfriday sales, up goes the tree, out go the pumpkins and magic elves take the entire scene – now terribly passé – away the next day. Harry is now free to put the family’s resources towards the next round of seasonal decorations – including but not limited to pinecones, miscellaneous greenery, assorted nut clusters and berry sprays – and, by January 1st, dispose of them just as


Am I shaming Harry and the purchase of six (possibly locally grown) pumpkins for a seasonal display?  No.  I am shaming Harry that it never crossed his mind that these six pumpkins are actually food, and should be treated differently than the broken fiber glass decorations also present in that week’s trash.

Here are just a few options for Harry:

Option 1 (advanced): Cut them up and roast them for side dishes, as cakes, as pies or as bread.

Option 2 (intermediate): Give them to a friend who has chickens or hogs happy for fresh food.

Option 3 (beginner): Smash them and put them in a corner of his garden or yard, cover with leaves, and begin his very own compost pile (and no doubt, squash plants next year).

Option 4 is in the very early stages, and will, if someday implemented, require almost no effort on Harry’s part: Put them out in a separate bin for food waste to be picked up by the county and recycled as compost or animal food.

My faith in humanity was restored this week when on my walk I came across these cracked squash set out for wildlife to enjoy.

My faith in humanity was restored this week when on my walk I came across these cracked squash set out for wildlife to enjoy.

Just last week, Maryland’s Department of the Environment hosted a Food Recovery Summit discussing options for county-wide recycling and re-distribution of food – including preventing food waste in the first place by diverting unused food to needy people and farms.  Much of this is directed towards restaurants and grocery stores, but the long-term plan could make doing the right thing a lot easier for Harry.

As this worthy effort gains strength, consider getting involved. Remember, being a good steward of your resources is not a red/blue thing.  Nor is it about buying a beautiful new Prius and feeling righteous.  It’s about the little things you do every day – like taking six pumpkins out of the landfill with just a few minutes of your time.

For more information on the recent summit, visit: and for more information on the cool ways a new charitable start-up called MEANS is connecting food with those that need it (Matching Excess And Need), visit:    .

Reprinted with the permission of The Frederick News Post




By | 2018-02-20T20:41:01+00:00 December 8th, 2016|

About the Author:

Marianne is the mother of two, wife of one and the voice of The Small Town Gardener. She gardens and writes from her home in the scenic (and exceptionally convenient) heart of Virginia's wine country.


  1. John December 8, 2016 at 7:00 pm - Reply

    Wow, you are getting right to the heart of holiday garbage. And you didn’t even mention the fact that the word ‘landfill’ in Frederick County is a misnomer. It all gets shipped off to West Virginia or Pennsylvania where it becomes someone else’s problem. What a crazy world…

    • Marianne Willburn December 9, 2016 at 2:39 pm - Reply

      SEPs (Somebody Else’s Problems) are at the heart of all this. We’ve got to take a bit more responsibility for the trash we generate as individuals; and I maintain that this is not a political issue, it’s an ethical one. Just cutting down a little bit is a good start – and composting is the most obvious way I know. Thanks for the comment John – I know there are those who don’t realize that their trash is actually going to another state.

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