Waste, or the lack there of, is a matter of skill, or the lack there of.

by mkriegh

I have been blessed with some time to slow down and think about what I want to do with the rest of my life. I have also had time to pay attention to my greatest interests, photography, cooking, and even some writing. As a result of the amount of time I am spending in the kitchen, I have found myself working at the inefficiencies of the way we process food through our house. I am ashamed to say that we have been prodigious wasters of food. We have the best of intentions. We buy expecting to use it all and to preserve what we can’t. But then the flow of our lives has its way with us and before we know it we have once a week clean out sessions where we toss what is going bad. We just haven’t had time to cook and preserve as we thought we would. And as importantly, we haven’t developed the skills required to be efficient with our food.

It is said that in order to become truly accomplished at something, 10,000 hours of practice are required. Of course you need to start with some basic aptitude and capability if you want to be proficient at anything, but in addition to that, 10,000 hours of practice are required. It takes that much time to make something second nature, to become one with whatever it is we are doing.

Now, what is becomming proficient other than becoming instinctively efficient? We train ourselves to accomplish our feats of whatever with the most efficient utilization of materials and energy that we can. In the end, nobody who can be called a master of any craft could have achieved that mastery without eliminating waste from the execution of their craft.

This seems like a significant challenge to me. If we want to be really proficient at, say, processing food into and through our homes, we have to spend a lot of time doing it. We have to practice how much to order. We have to practice the palaning of menus around busy schedules. We have to develop strategies for dealing with over production, like canning and freezing. And because food preservation can be dangerous if done wrong, we have to become proficient at it. That means more skills to practice. And there is much to be done with peelings and scraps. We can turn them into soup or we can compost them. That means we need to spend time learning to be effective broth makers and composters. Its not as simple as tossing scraps into a pile and letting them rot or tossing them into a pot of water and simmering the nutrients out of them. There is a science to both.

It is not surprising then, that modern society seeks to free us from having to be proficient in many of these skills. It takes so much time to become proficient. This is the idea behind breaking the production of a product down into individual non-skilled steps that can be routinized such that most anyone can do the work. The final product does not depend on skilled craftsmanship, just the reasonably accurate execution of a step in the process. Waste can be streamlined out of such a system. And the net result, I suppose, is the more efficient production and distribution of goods.

But then those goods get back into the hands of consumers who do not buy, use or dispose of them efficiently. The cycle always winds up in the hands of the unskilled. Does the consumer have time to become an expert buyer and utilizer of products? Not when they have so little time to practice between jobs, family and the demands of maintaining their lives. The waste goes on, having been streamlined out of some parts of the system, but always returning to the weak link, the unskilled user/consumer.

How does the consumer become skilled? By having time to practice. And where does that time come from? Its hard to say, we don’t value the perfection of consumption nearly enough to make it worth 10,000 hours of practice. In fact, I think it is quite the reverse.