Waste not...

I have been thinking about waste recently, both in the context of my project to reduce our electricity consumption, and in regard to our food. I have been reading Little House in the big Woods to Posy (again). I find as an adult I read these books a lot differently than I did as a child. Then it was about the story, now it's more 'And Ma is doing what now?' I can see now that they lived absolutely on the edge, that if they didn't do the myriad jobs they undertook well, efficiently, and consistently, they would have starved. They didn't make cheese because it was a personal food choice, they made it to preserve the cow's excess milk, because every single resource had to be carefully husbanded so they would survive the Winter.

Obviously we have so much more in the way of resources than a nineteenth century pioneering family, and I am extremely grateful for that, but the enormous incidence of waste in our society just seems morally wrong in the face of the millions upon millions of families all over the world who need to husband every resource just as carefully as Ma and Pa, merely to stay balanced on a knife-edge of survival.

In regards to electricity, Tasmania, until recently, produced all of its electricity via a hydro-electric scheme, because what we have a lot of here, is water. Then, about five years ago we had to start importing electricity from Victoria, from their coal-fired electricity stations. A retrograde step in my opinion. What I have found in our house as I have been watching our electricity consumption, is that we are wasting quite a lot, just by heating the house when we are not awake for instance, or with windows open, or lighting rooms that we are not using. So I think (hope) that we will find our usage has gone down, not because I have banned everyone from taking hot showers, or declared that we all have to wear parkas in the house, but just by cutting out the waste, which no-one actually notices (I may have to work up to the parkas idea..).  Just maybe, if everyone in Tasmania tried to cut out electricity waste, just waste, not actual use, we could stop importing electricity from unsustainable coal, and just use that nice cold water.

And food, well, I tell you, that however annoying it is to waste food that has been bought from a shop, it is so much worse to find food that you have cooked, or even worse, grown then cooked, uneaten and mouldy in the back of the fridge. The investment of time, creativity and hard work is added to the money wasted, and it just becomes unbearable. Of course, waste is so much easier when your children are not going to starve if you do not preserve every single food stuff your garden produces (thank goodness). But there is an ethical line to be drawn there somewhere. Food that isn't wasted represents income that can be used elsewhere - in our case, we want to go solar, and we want rainwater tanks. Food that isn't wasted means less oil used in transporting more food to us, and garden food that isn't wasted means a huge reduction in food miles in our diet. And that is what I am aiming for this year. Less waste = more solar panels.

Practically, it involves planning (aaargh), a rather large time investment, and eternal vigilance. And also tricking the children. My children aren't terribly keen on anything that looks like a left over. They will walk past the last mandarin in the fruit bowl for days on end, even if they like mandarins, because it looks like a sad leftover. Ditto the last couple of anything plated up in the fridge. I have learnt never to ask if they would like these leftovers, because the answer is always no, instead, I just serve it up without comment in an easy to eat format, and they go for it every time. Yesterday I wanted to get rid of the last mandarin and two leftover choc chip pancakes from the fridge. They love choc chip pancakes, just not when they are left. over. Refused my requests to finish them up. So I chopped up the pancakes into dainty little triangles, added the peeled mandarin and a handful of frozen blueberries, and served up morning tea. Well, it was so yum, apparently, that it was polished off in two minutes flat. It's all in the presentation.


1. I love reading the Little House books as how-to manuals. There's something bracing about getting through the day with Ma and Pa Ingalls. I also like to imagine Christmases where all my children get are gingerbread and peppermint sticks.

2. We are edging into the hot part of summer, and my life is dedicated to keeping the house cool without over-reliance on the air conditioner. My dream is to have upstairs/downstairs AC, since the downstairs stays cool until 3 or so, but the upstairs starts heating up around noon. I will not bore you with more details (I was about to, but deleted), but suffice to say it drives me crazy.

3. There are times when I throw up my hands, because I feel like hardly anyone cares about conserving energy, and I can be stingy with the AC or turn off lights we're not using, and still I know it's not even a drop in the bucket when it comes to how much energy is wasted.

4. As I've mentioned before, I love compost because it helps convert waste into amazing, rich soil. Still, I wish my children would eat the fruit I buy them.

Jo said…
Dear Frances, you write the most divine comments. I have to say I agree with everything you say. Children who should eat what's put in front of them AND BE GRATEFUL, Christmas consisting of oranges YES. And I've lived in hot places in my life, both the desert and the tropics, and both kinds of heat suck, which is why we moved to Tasmania, where we might need a fan for a couple of nights over summer. You have my sympathy.

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