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Food for Thought

Richard Quinn

EXCEPT FOR A SCALLION or cucumber—feel free to add other items—finding something green in your refrigerator is generally not good. This morning, I reached for the butter and caught a glimpse of dark green. It was a wedge of never-opened goat cheese, $5.60 worth. Or, to view it another way, $253 in lost retirement savings over the next 40 years.

Before we left for Florida this winter, we removed from the fridge all items that would not survive six weeks. That process alone triggered a debate over what to keep or throw. In any case, a lot of money went in the trash. Many of the things we found upon our return had simply been forgotten during our pre-trip purge. Like goat cheese.

According to Feeding America, nearly 40% of all food is wasted in America. An estimated 39% of that waste occurs at home, amounting to some 42 billion pounds of food each year, including my 0.51 pound of cheese. I often wonder how anyone knows that statistic. I suspect it won’t be long before high-tech kitchen appliances report our every wasteful action.

I also decided to look in the pantry for old food. Sure enough, there was a cache of forgotten cans, jars and boxes, including a jar of beets. I haven’t eaten beets since forced to by my mother in 1952. The jar said “use by 3/23/2018.” It must have come with us when we moved to our condo.

In addition, I found souvenir food that was either way outdated or questionable as to its use. Souvenir food is the stuff you buy in gift shops when traveling. It seems cool at the time, but when you get home, you’ll never cook anything as intended. I found Real Texas BBQ rub, Cajun spices, cactus jelly, and paprika from the last time I was in Budapest. When was the last time I was in Budapest? My favorite find was a “special” tea you sip from a gourd. I picked it up in Argentina. I was told it was very relaxing, which is yet to be determined.

When on a cleaning spree, don’t give too much credibility to expiration dates. Except for baby formula, there are no federal regulations on food dating. The “use by,” “best by” and “expiration” dates are pretty arbitrary and more intended to reflect a decline in flavor—unless the product has turned green, of course.

It’s possible to waste money in other ways, too, like on junk food and snacks. One estimate says we spend nearly $30,000 in a lifetime on salty and sweet snacks. Based on the annual spending rate on snacks of almost $480 a year and a 10% investment return, cutting them out could turn into more than $230,000 over 40 years. As I’ve said before, let me at your shopping cart and I’ll find savings that will put you on track for early retirement, and maybe lose weight, too.

While all this throwing away and snacking is going on, the U.S. manages to rank as the most obese country in the world, if you exclude an array of Pacific Islands and Kuwait. It would appear our financial woes aren’t caused by what we fail to put in the bank, but rather by what we put in our mouth—or planned to and forgot about.

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