How your individual actions really do matter in the fight to save the planet
I’m pretty sure most of us are onside with the concept of saving the planet. Self-preservation is one of the most basic human instincts we all share. But when we get passed that initial gut-check, most of us suffer a great deal of inertia when it comes to taking any steps towards changing our own behaviors. It’s just very hard to see how any one thing you do as an individual can make a scrap of difference in the face of global challenges. We pretend our actions don’t matter, and we wait for someone else to arrive at a silver-bullet solution that can save us all.
The world abounds with sustainability and climate change action plans, but the latest figures show many countries are falling behind hitting even the lowest targets for protecting the environment or reducing carbon emissions. In the meantime, the global population continues to tick up passed the 7.7 billion mark, and according to world hunger statistics at least 10% of people are under nourished.
In Canada and the US, that translates to 1 in 8 households being food insecure. It can feel like you’re swimming uphill when you stop to think about what it might actually take to resolve these trends and achieve stability. . . .We sip our coffees and shake our heads and the world keeps turning.
When it comes to the food production end of this equation, there are conflicting messages in terms of what it will take to end food insecurity. Some camps tout industrial farming and lab-grown meat as the answer to feeding the world. Others believe that to feed the world we must also reverse the damage in the environment caused by that very same industrial system that is supposed to be saving us, and therefore the focus turns to organic and local food production. Most likely there is no single answer on this front. But again, these conversations place the solution, and the actions, in the hands of someone else. Someone else will grow the food, heal the environment, and solve this problem for us.
Food Insecurity and Food Waste Both Begin at Home
Solving food insecurity doesn’t begin or end with simply producing more food. Every day millions of tons of food are wasted in the very same communities in which 1 in 8 families are going hungry. This isn’t happening in some faraway place. According to the Love Food Hate Waste Canada website, as much as 47% of the food wasted can be attributed to households. . .
. . . . wait a minute, isn’t that where you live?
Think about it for a second.
How much food are you throwing out in a week? Of course there are carrot peels and broccoli stems, that leftover pasta no one bothered to eat, the salad pack that turned limp before you could finish it, the bread that passed its prime and is too dry, the cheese that went a bit moldy, the meat left stuck on the bones after a roast chicken. . . . the list goes on, right? We all waste food.
In part, we waste it because food is perishable and it’s hard to be precise about what you will eat in a week. But even with military precision for meal planning and a vegan diet, food would still be wasted every day in the form of peels and parts that people simply don’t eat. Food waste as part of the food insecurity equation seems inevitable. After all, no one is suggesting food insecure families should be living off your carrot peels!
But they could . . .
. . . . if those peels and food waste were first being fed to chickens!
A Chicken for Every Situation
It only takes 3 chickens, fed household waste, to produce a dozen eggs a week. One chicken can eat over 90 pounds of food in a year, and in that time produce upwards of 200 eggs. So for three chickens, that is 270 pounds of food eaten and 600 eggs produced!
Chickens are omnivores, which means they are able to derive nutrition from a very broad range of plants, grains, seeds, and meat. Yes, chickens eat meat — sorry if that offends any vegetarians reading this, but they were born that way. Given sufficient nutrients and variety in their diets, these same birds produce fresh, highly nutritious eggs throughout most of the year.
There are many types of chickens to choose from that are suited to different climates and conditions and production systems. Some do well in small spaces, and others are really meant for pastures and free-range situations. Some are friendly and even affectionate creatures, while others are flighty and high strung.
From tiny Silkies to Jersey Giants there is a chicken breed that can fit into nearly any regime. Some are best suited to egg production. Some are meat birds. Still others are considered dual purpose, which means they produce both eggs and meat well, but neither one to the extent that a specialized breed would. Dual purpose breeds were once the lifeblood of small family farms for centuries until industrial chicken farming became the norm.
Thus a little care in choosing the “right” breed for the situation is warranted because some are better suited to a food waste diet than others. There is no point trying to raise the commercially bred Cornish Cross designed for industrial meat production on a household food waste diet. The results would likely be dismal.
But feed that same diet to a heritage Barred Rock, and the results are amazing.
The point is that with some attention to the details, there is a chicken and a production system suited to nearly every place on the planet where people live. This makes access to the food waste/egg solution possible in nearly every country of the world.
So it would seem there is a match here in terms of food waste being generated and food-waste-eating chickens that can produce new table-ready food quickly and efficiently. There is even a match between this scale of the food waste and the food insecurity problem: They both come down to households. Households generate food waste and chickens, particularly those in backyards, can turn that into a new resource for the family or the neighborhood.
Finally! We have arrived at a simple, every day action within the reach of millions of households that could make a real difference to food insecure families and the future of the planet.
Your Effort is Minimal!
Your effort is remarkably minimal, which is something to truly celebrate! Scrape off your plate into a bowl, empty the overdue stuff from your fridge, and go feed the chickens. If you have ever had a cat or dog, you fed them without ever getting a direct reward beyond a bark, a meow, a lick or a cuddle. But feed a chicken, and you are rewarded with new food that you can eat. You take your leftover spaghetti out to the hens one day, and the next day you collect fresh eggs. It’s little wonder that chicken keeping is catching on again!
We have been programmed for instant rewards, and luckily chicken-keeping offers that satisfaction in ways most other pets could only dream of. They give US a food treat! Our brains are hardwired to seek out rewards.
Chickens train their owners in no time at all.
But how does this really solve food insecurity?
If people don’t have enough to eat themselves already, then surely they don’t have enough to feed chickens. I can hear the argument forming in your head already. Well, yes and no.
Even food insecure families produce food waste from whatever is on their tables. We’ve already talked about that. But it is true, it might not be enough to support chickens too. This is where our personal actions come into play, and our choices can really start to add up.
First of all, if you stop wasting food, there is simply more food to go around. When you start feeding your household waste to chickens, a remarkable thing starts to happen. You become mindful of your food habits and food waste. Not only are you utilizing more of the food you buy directly, but you start to question the cost of what you’re feeding those chickens. It leads to positive changes in your behavior that spin off to other waste and sustainability issues. You start to make better choices because you have experienced the benefit of reducing waste first hand, every time you eat an egg. Pavlov would be so proud!
Secondly, as you benefit from feeding your birds food waste and eating fresh eggs, you realize that food waste is a valuable resource. If you actually had more waste, you could have more chickens and even sell eggs. Crazy right?
My neighbors are more than willing to provide me with their food waste for the opportunity to buy fresh eggs. . . . that’s right, they give me chicken food AND still buy the eggs. Why? Because where I live, you have to take your own garbage to the dump. Everything not going into the garbage bag means lower fees on a dump run. They are saving money giving me their kitchen wastes and they love the fresh eggs so they buy them from me instead of the store. They like what I am trying to accomplish, and they vote with their dollars. Win-win-win.
In other words, you can give your food wastes to someone else who has chickens, and still hit the bulls-eye.
Thirdly, chickens are not all that consistent at producing eggs, meaning sometimes they will produce a lot of eggs all at once and other times there will be no eggs, like when the birds are molting. Any gardener will recognize this problem if they have ever planted zucchini — you can go from a few to too many in an eye blink and then what?
When there are too many eggs, then there are dozens to be bartered or sold or given away. That means not every household has to have their own chickens in order to benefit from chickens in the neighborhood. When production is peaking, there are often eggs for everyone, even with only a small number of birds in the system.
And lastly, it is not that much of a leap to go from having backyard chickens to having community or food bank chickens where food scraps could go purposefully to produce eggs for hungry families. There are any number of situations in communities where keeping chickens could provide nurturing and empowering experiences for people while at the same time creating local food. . . .think daycares, schools, halfway houses, addiction centers and even prison programs, seniors centers, church groups, food banks, and the list goes on.
There are opportunities where there is food waste and people needing to experience connection and purpose. It is just really hard not to smile when you reach into a nest box and pull out a beautiful new egg, or when you hand someone a dozen eggs that you have produced with your own birds. There is more to this chicken story than just waste and food, but I will leave that for another day.
This is within reach
If we can only start to match up these resources in our own households, and our communities, then we could actually make a difference on both the waste front and the food insecurity front at the same time: Killing two stones with one bird, if you will.
This is not a silver bullet. You will actually have to do something.
But your role is dead simple. Instead of throwing out your food, feed it to chickens or give to someone who will.
There is nothing stopping you from having an immediate and measurable impact in the fight to save the planet, and reduce hunger.
This is your cue to put the coffee down, and get cracking!