What did you do with last night’s leftovers? How about the uneaten casseroles and desserts from Sunday’s church potluck? What happened to it? Food waste is a bigger problem than many people expect.
Consider this staggering statistic: if food waste were a country, it would be the third largest producer of greenhouse gasses, only behind China and the United States. Food waste—those leftovers plus all the other food that never gets eaten—produces a lot of greenhouse gas emissions, which is what’s driving climate change.
In the United States, we waste 30 to 40 percent of our food, according to the US Department of Agriculture. That’s a lot! We can do better. Jesus taught us not to let food go to waste and to steward what he’s given us.
This Earth Day, let’s consider what Jesus taught about food waste. I believe Jesus had an opinion on waste. He may not have directly preached about it, but his attitude is obvious once you see it.
Those Twelve Full Baskets
Let’s look at John’s account of the feeding of the five thousand, which occurred late in Jesus’s ministry.
Having just crossed the Sea of Galilee on a boat, Jesus just wanted to rest and hang out with his friends on the mountainside. However, upon landing, a vast crowd of over 5,000 men (and an unspecified number of women and children) had gathered to greet them. So, he changed his plans. He healed the sick and preached his Good News, despite his weariness.
But since it was mealtime, Jesus asked Philip how they would feed the throng of people. It would cost more than half a year’s wages to buy that much, the disciple said. But then, Andrew found a young boy who appeared to be the only one who packed a lunch. The sweet boy was willing to share. He had five small loaves of barley bread and two small fish (I always assume they were salted and preserved). With this meager offering, Jesus multiplied the meal with enough food for all those present.
When everyone had their fill, Jesus states, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” John 6 continues, “So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.”
A similar but distinct miracle occurs again in Matthew 15 and Mark 8 when seven loaves of bread and a few fish feed 4,000 men (plus uncounted women and children). This time the disciples collect seven basketfuls of food waste.
Jesus made the food for these people from nearly nothing. I think we can apply his attitude of saving leftovers to food waste and waste in general. He knew how many people were there, yet he made extra. Our loving Lord made excess food to bless the people even more. In this moment, he taught us about stewardship. He wants us to make the best of what we have and use even the excess well. Let nothing be wasted, he told us. Use what he gives us to the fullest we can. Be good stewards of his gifts.
- Check out this US EPA page on preventing food waste at home.
- Learn more by reading this article on food waste from Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
- Listen to the Climavores podcast, which focuses on eating for a changing planet.
- Read our three part series on why we should care for creation (Parts one, two, and three)
- I wrote this article about reducing household food waste, but much of it can be easily be applied in our churches.
Tips to Reduce Food Waste
Jesus didn’t want food to go to waste. What can we do to reduce our own food waste? First, plan meals better. Eat what you’ve prepared or freeze (or otherwise preserve) cooked food. Have a set “leftover night” when you clean out the fridge and eat leftovers for dinner (or another meal). When you’re cooking, compost your food scraps. Use veggie scraps to make vegetable stock for soups. Learn how to properly store food so it stays fresh longer. Freeze fruit to make smoothies. Share excess food with friends, family, church members, or even food pantries.
Jesus lived in a reuse culture. The baskets that were used to collect the excess food were already among the people. Do you reuse containers and bottles in your food prep and preserving so you’re not generating as much waste? This is the other side of waste, reducing what you’re sending the landfill.
Church communities love to gather for potlucks and desserts. As institutions, we can also do better when we eat together. We can have a plan for the inevitable leftover food—donate it to a shelter or have containers ready for sharing excess. We can also use durable silver and tableware instead of paper or plastic disposables to reduce waste. Consider hiring a composting contractor for big events or start a compost pile on the church grounds. The key is to be ready with a plan to reduce food waste and trash.
Food waste is a problem that we can address in our daily lives where we live, work, go to school, or worship. Certainly, the disciples worked together to collect their twelve basketfuls of food. As a church body, we can work together to do the same. Jesus taught the masses to reduce food waste and challenges us to ask at home and at church: how many baskets of leftover food can we collect? May nothing be wasted.