Let’s Talk Composting (and a Giveaway of ‘Compost City’ Book)

In today’s day and age of media, we are inundated with visuals of food. It’s not just television and celebrity chefs cooking up a storm, across social media channels we watch what our friends eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, not to mention, their cake-filled coffee breaks.

We read magazines about what to eat. We watch shows about what to eat. We scour the Internet to find a recipe to tell us what to eat. We eat, and eat and eat some more. Yet in this world of so much food and eating – so many beautifully plated dishes that you sometimes just want to scream – there’s one thing we rarely talk about, and rarely see: food waste.

Food waste is an enormous problem. Today, 40% of food in the United States goes uneaten, the equivalent of $165 billion worth of food. Of course, not all of this is the fault of the consumer; food waste is the sum of many parts across the supply chain. But when it comes to the food that we do individually throw away – either because we bought too much at the grocery story and it has gone bad, or because we only eat certain parts of vegetables and throw out the rest – it’s having a significant impact on our environment. Uneaten food is the largest component of municipal solid waste, and as it sits rotting in landfills, is responsible for huge methane emissions.

On an individual level, the answer to this lies in being smarter about what we consume, so that we don’t overbuy in the first place, but also putting our food scraps to use. We have to think of the parts of vegetables that we don’t use, and all of those eggshells, and all of those coffee grounds, not as waste, but as a rich potential for future growth.

Because composting our food scraps isn’t just doing our part, it’s taking part in the entire cycle of food. We pick food grown from the earth, we compost the scraps of that food to put back into the soil, and the soil in turn is enriched, helping us to grow more food and starting the cycle over again. And as we know, soil is an essential part of keeping us healthy.

I grew up with a compost pile in the garden. I used to dig in the pile for worms, put them in a used yogurt container and walk around with them, saying that I was “babysitting” them. I’ve collected food scraps in a tupperware container in an apartment and walked them down to the compost pile in the local community garden. I’ve had a vermicomposting system in the kitchen, little worms hard at work, munching through all those damn coffee grounds.

A lot of friends of mine compost, but no one really ever talks about it. Certainly not in the way that we talk about what we ate for breakfast or dessert. That’s what needs to change.

A few months ago my friend Amy sent me a photo of a mason jar full of coffee grounds and a grapefruit peel. “Morning compost,” she wrote. I laughed. This was the antithesis of the food porn shot. Compost porn. I loved it. I sent one back to her. This kept going for weeks.

“How disgusting!” most people would probably say if they received a photo of food scraps, and yet, isn’t the end life of our food and our food waste just as important as what’s on our plate? Maybe if we paid a little more attention to our food waste we would learn a little more about it, not be so grossed out by it, and maybe even not create so much of it.

Compost City by Rebecca Louie

“I think that there is an expectation with composting that it’s this big, sweaty, thing, that you’re out in the field, covered in muck,” says Rebecca Louie. Louie is the author of the book Compost City: Practical Composting Know How for Small Space Living, a lovely guide to the ins and outs of composting, challenging all of us to put our food waste to good use. She wants to change how people think about compost, even in places where people assume they can’t compost. “There are so many composting systems and they can all be adapted to any walk of life, any schedule and any space,” says Louie. That means that you too, dear urban dweller, can get into a composting routine. 

That initial “ew, gross” reaction that we have is partly because, yes, a compost pile can get a little gross once in awhile (especially if your balance is off and it’s too wet, a common issue). But also because we are so detached from the natural cycle that sustains us. Waste is a reality. When we brush that aside, pretend it’s not there, that’s when we have real problems.

“Like any cocktail, or any cookie recipe, it’s all about finding the right balance between elements to make your composting successful,” says Louie. That means that what works for your friend might not work for you. But there’s probably a method out there that does. So that’s what we’ll be doing in the next few months: learning about compost. Embracing compost! Because in a world of food porn, I think we could do with a little more compost porn. As Louie puts it, once you start composting, you’ll probably never stop. “[It’s] the gateway to wanting to do it more and more,” says Louie. The more you compost, the more “the world will look like things to compost when you’re walking down the street.”

So come join in for the new composting series on Foodie Underground, because what we do with our food waste is as important as what we eat in the first place.

Win a copy of Compost City: Practical Composting Know How for Small Space Living

To get you excited about composting (after reading this whole post, I don’t know how you couldn’t be…), Louie has kindly offered up her book as a giveaway. If you have been debating on starting to compost, or even if you’re already a composter but want to learn more, this book deserves a spot on your bookshelf. How are you going to win? You’re going to join in the compost porn revolution. Post a photo of your food scraps on Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #morningcompost (and be sure to tag Foodie Underground!).

Come on, what’s sexier than a morning shot of cracked eggshells? Avocado toast has nothing on that.

Enter by Monday February 29, 2016. Note that the book can only be shipped to U.S. 

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