“Writing and cookery are just two different means of communication,” said Maya Angelou.
Today, food is more about communication than consumption.
Communication happens instantly these days, and access to information within fractions of a second, too. Gone are the days where we check answering machines at the end of the day, or wonder if we missed somebody’s call. Today we communicate anything, at any time, in almost any way.
And few things evoke our desire to communicate more than food. Instagram, the powerful photo sharing application — purchased by Facebook for $1 billion in 2012 — is fast-becoming one of our favorite mediums. There is no character as beloved or exalted on Instagram as food.
It’s become the primary way that chefs communicate their product with the masses. I was at Food & Wine magazine last summer for a project, and there existed an entire department devoted to the set-up and photography for (largely) Instagram.
As an ardent follower of many chefs on Instagram, and Food & Wine, this behind-the-scenes access was striking — watching the set-up of an image that was about to reach millions of people around the world. This photo would evoke joy, excitement (and in my case, yearning. It was a cheeseburger). It got me thinking about the power of food – which, in turn got me thinking about the value of it.
“Traditionally, the value of food was connected to its flavor. The quality of food is [now] closely linked to its appearance,” said Italian Sociologist Debora Viviani. Food’s worth suddenly lies in how it looks, how it is photographed. In short, its entertainment value.
All of this is part of the rich and vibrant food culture that is food right now. But let’s not forget that food is a basic need, a human essential that we need as beings in order to survive. It is sustenance and a biological necessity — talk about value.
Grocery stores are stocked with photo-ready produce departments, the fruits and vegetables appearing as though they were plucked from the pages of Food & Wine or Bon Appétit themselves — a veritable catalog of gorgeous offerings.
But, like any kind of production, there is overproduction. Some things don’t make the cut, and very often, its true nutritional value is there but its entertainment value diminished. So, it is discarded.
Anything that does not meet the cosmetic standard of perfection often has no value to consumers. Everything is camera-ready. But what happens to what doesn’t meet those standards? Traditionally, it has been tossed – deemed garbage, labeled unsellable.
But this is food! The marketable value does not necessarily represent its nutritional value, but its worth to those who cannot walk into a grocery store or buy what they want or what they need. This is where up-cycling adds value — by actually retaining it. The consumer can certainly drive demand in any market – and perhaps that is the point. But, it does not mean we are not responsible for the supply that does not meet that standard. That does not mean we turn our backs on those not demanding perfection, or those who are hungry.
With 49 million people in this country unable to consistently provide for themselves and their family (including 16 million hungry children), we must resign ourselves to do a better job of ensuring that this food, the imperfect but significant, does not go to waste.
Over 100,000,000,000 pounds of food that winds up in a landfill each year, can be prevented and re-appropriated. That is, captured before it’s real value is lost, and distributed to those who need it.
We throw away a third of our global food supply, almost half here in the United States. Yet there are millions of posts every day on picture-perfect food – creative dishes in restaurants around the world, shared culinary experiences amongst friends. Through Instagram and other social media, this community of people are strangers-turned-friends.
Let’s look at food as our most powerful tool to unite and connect community. We might not be eating the same thing, but we all have to eat. Food is the most basic shared experience we can have. Camera-ready, or not.
This post is part of The Huffington Post’s “Reclaim” initiative, which showcases solutions to the issue of food waste and engages our readers to take action. You can find all the posts in this initiative, as well as feature pieces, investigative stories and video, here. Follow the initiative on Twitter at #Reclaim. And if you’d like to add your own thoughts to our series, sign up here for a HuffPost blog account.