Let nothing be wasted

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The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) released a study in September documenting the environmental impacts of global food wastage and its direct economic impacts, which it reports add up to $750 billion annually. The study provides a global account of the environmental footprint of food wastage (both food loss and food waste) along the food supply chain, focusing specifically on how it impacts climate, water, land and biodiversity. The FAO stresses the moral issue of 870 million people going hungry while 1/3 of all food produced goes to waste.

The study also indicates that food waste is responsible for 3.3 billion tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions[1]; if food waste was integrated into a country ranking of top emitters, it would be the third highest global GHG emitter, after the US and China.[2] It notes that 54% of wastage occurs during production, post-harvest handling and storage, and 46% of wastage occurs during processing, distribution and consumption, with production losses occurring most in developing countries, and consumption losses highest in high and middle income countries.[3] With Thanksgiving upon us, I was curious to know how much turkey goes to waste every year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that Americans throw away about 35 percent of the turkey they buy; whose monetary value was estimated to be approximately $282 million dollars in 2012. [4]

After reading this report, I realized that these problems are far from new; they have been around since Jesus lived on Earth. The well-known biblical passage on John 6:1-13 talks about Jesus feeding a crowd of five thousand people. Although the main focus of this passage is on the actual miracle of multiplication of bread and fish, it also teaches us a lesson of waste management.

The passage in verses 10 and 11 says that Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted and did the same with the fish. However, in verse 12 it says:

“When they all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.”

This passage demonstrates some amazingly practical principles that all of us can apply in our daily lives. First, Jesus gave thanks and then distributed what he had to the crowd. Even just having a small amount of food available for that large crowd, God miraculously provided. We need to have faith that our small efforts add up to make a difference in the world. If each of us contributes to the greater good even in the smallest way, the total of all efforts will make a difference. Individual behavior can affect a social change that will impact our society in the future.

Second, there was both an environmental and a social component to why Jesus didn’t want any of the food to be wasted. From an environmental perspective, Jesus understood how creation worked and knew if the waste wasn’t collected, it could pollute the environment, hence why he asked the disciples to clean up after everybody was fed. From a social perspective, he understood the practical needs that could be met by refusing to waste food. Although the Bible does not specify where the leftover food ended up, I have to wonder, could it have been used to feed more people the following day? Was Jesus expecting to feed more people in the coming days since it was near the Jewish Passover Festival? However it was used, the point is that it was used, and not wasted.

We can apply these social-environmental principles in our ordinary lives. The “let nothing be wasted” principle is still one that businesses and households still struggle with, but we mustn’t forget that all of our small efforts to reduce our waste do make a difference.

May we all practice this simple principle as THANKSGIVING WEEK IS APPROACHING so that we can have a better planet.

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3 thoughts on “Let nothing be wasted

  1. Excellent insight. I’ve often thought about Jesus’ words, “Let nothing be wasted”, always amazed at how they apply to every area of life!

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