The Four Pounds of Cheese Project

4 pounds of cheeseThat's a whole Hell of a lot of cheese to throw away!

My cousin Ken called me a couple of weeks ago to let me know that he had found an article in the latest issue of National Geographic Magazine that might be of Interest to me.  He told me just a bit about it, and then sent it to me Via USPS.

It came a couple of days later in an unassuming white envelope. And when I opened it up, he had stuck a little note inside asking, "Do I see a blog post in this?"  Well, the answer to that, Kenneth is a resounding Yes.

The article, in the July 2011 issue of NatGeoMag, is entitled How to Feed a Growing Planet, but the graphic that accompanies said article is of a place mat with a bunch of food on it.  Each food pictured on the place mat represents a type of food:  fruit, butter, milk, fresh vegetables, etc, and has two numbers.  The first number signifies the number of pounds of each type of food purchased, on average, by each American.  The second number signifies the number of pounds of each type of food that each American wastes every year.  And let me tell you, the list is pretty shocking.

Here are just a few examples:

Per Year, Americans Buy  And Waste
  • 70 pounds of poultry
  • 77 pounds of fresh fruit
  • 131 pounds of fresh vegetables
  • 103 pounds of red meat
  • 27 pounds of poultry
  • 22 pounds of fresh fruit
  • 39 pounds of fresh vegetables
  • 36 pounds of red meat
                                                                                               --How to Feed a Growing Planet, National Geographic, July 2011

And, of the 28 pounds of cheese Americans purchase every year, they waste Four Pounds of Cheese.

I went to my friend Jamie's book reading and signing this Tuesday (you guys remember Jamie--he wrote the great guest post on food in literature a few months ago).  After the reading, which was Smashing, I was chatting with his remarkable wife, Gwyn, about this article.  And during our conversation, I sort of blurted out that I'd be taking pictures of my food waste for a week and then posting them.  Not sure where that came from, because honestly I don't think it was in my brain until it was coming out of my mouth, but there you have it.

From there, the idea grew.  Several twitter friends wanted to participate, and Jenn Campus (@LeftoverQueen) suggested that I build an event page on facebook.  So I did.

And now, I'm hoping that as many people as possible will participate in this project.  Here's all you have to do.

  1. To show that you are participating and to help publicize the event, please grab the Four Pounds of Cheese Project button over in my sidebar.  (Thank you to @LDGourmet for the badge idea--I rely heavily on my friends for Excellent Advice)!  You'll have to click the picture and grab the embed code from flickr, or I have the html you'll need to embed it in one of the first comments on the event page.  The code in the box under the badge will create the grab box so others can grab it from you. This is totally optional but might help to promote the project and tie all the posts together with a strong visual.  
  2. Take a picture of all the edible (not bones, shells, peels, etc) that you throw away each day from August 1-August 7.  You can save all of it and take just one picture, or you can take pictures as you go along.  It's entirely up to you.
  3. If you have a blog, on August 7 or 8, please post your photographs for the week including your reflections on the exercise and anything you learned from the process of monitoring your waste.  If you don't have a blog, you can post your pictures to the Event Page or to my Fan Page.  You can also make a set on flickr or photobucket and just post a link to that if you want.
  4. After posting, please post a link to your post either on the fan page, to @onlinepastrychf on twitter or to my email.
  5. I will post a roundup of all the results on or around the 8th, or as soon as I have a majority of posts in.
  6. If you have any questions, comments, suggestions and/or reflections about the event at any time, please tweet them with the hashtag #FourPounds or post them to the event page.

My hope is that this project will get people talking and thinking and rethinking.  If it does that, I will consider it a success.  And if participating in, or reading about, this project makes anybody think twice before buying more than they can use before it goes bad or finding a use for that day old bread before it gets moldy or (for the love of Everything Holy) not ending up throwing away Four Pounds of Cheese A Year, then I will consider it a Rousing Success.

I have sent many invitations to folks to join up on facebook, but I don't know everyone who would like to participate.  If you can join without an invitation, please do so. If it turns out you need an invitation, let me or another attendee know and we'll invite you (I have no idea how event pages work.  This is my first time).  If you're not on facebook, you can certainly participate--you already know the rules!  Just follow along on twitter with the Appropriate Hashtag, and don't forget to send me a link to your post/pictures.

I hope you join in, and I hope you share this project with your friends.  I don't normally ask for people to spread the word about my Awesome Posts, but in this case, I'm asking you to please Talk it Up, Pass It On, email, Digg, Reddit, Stumble or whatever else you do to Get the Word Out.  I have some share buttons right down there, see?

Thank you so much, and I hope to see you at the event the first week of August.

Have a lovely day.


  1. says

    Oooh, looks like I *can* participate, even without FB. Huzzah! My early prediction is that since (a) I don’t like fruits/vegetables and (b) we’re pretty broke right now, we’re (c) eating more processed foods than we probably should and (d) that’s why we don’t waste that much food. If we were eating fresh fruits/veggies like we’re supposed to, they’d probably go bad more quickly and/or before we could get to them. OK, that was wordier than I expected. Will be interested in how this turns out!

    • says

      So glad you’ll be playing along, Christine! I expect that we’ll all learn a lot, including what we all eat, what we consider waste, and our own attitudes about what we waste/how we waste, etc.

  2. Ken says

    Glad you were inspired by the article. The numbers are staggering.
    Although Candace and I think we’re careful, I’m sure we waste more than we think. We’re eager to see the results of your project!
    After people report what they “waste,” perhaps you should ask your followers to suggest recipes that would have prevented the food from being tossed out.. Let’s see…what can we make from one sardine, half an English muffin, 4 grapes and some shredded wheat????????
    Cousin Ken

  3. says

    Jenni, this is bound to be an eye-opener! If you are aware of the blog “100 days of real food,” (where a mom of 2 feeds her family Real Food on the $ alloted for family on full SNAP benefits) she mentioned that one thing they learned was to stop wasting food! I’ll be following from afar–sorry not to throw in my lot with you on this one but my family is travelling this week, and frankly I’m lucky if I manage to take the requisite vacation photos let alone photograph the wasted food! With you in sprit though! xo

  4. says

    I think what you are doing here is SO awesome! We need to be so much more aware of what we are doing to our planet. I used to use tons of ziploc bags till my son looked me in the eye and said “Mom, do you realize every one of those bags takes 100 years to break down in the landfill?” … it took me a while but finally I changed, and now I drive him crazy with how green I am. 🙂 We try not to do the disposable cups and bags, and we compost all the wasted food and grow a lot of our own, but still I can’t say we are not guilty of buying and wasting food. We do have to be careful not to tell our children to eat it all because we don’t want to waste it … making our kids fat because we don’t want to waste it does nobody good … but yes, we need to be aware of how much we are wasting. And think about how to use those things before they go bad. Or simply not BUY so much!

    • says

      Thanks–it has been even more eye-opening than I had thought so far! Overbuying and then wasting is the main thing we have to work on–even though we can compost it, sometimes it feels like a cop-out.

  5. Holly says

    Fantastic way to become more aware of personal habits. You would think that this would also save people money as well. We have chickens so if we have something that is starting to turn the chickens get it and we get eggs…sort of a round about way to have less waste I guess. We also shop the discounted, almost rotting veggie bin at the grocery for them as well. They are always happy to help! We also compost which is great for our garden. I guess it’s all about how you define waste.

    • says

      Yes, we have chickens too and they are awesome! We compost all of our food waste, but I often find myself saying “we can just compost it” instead of eating it before it goes bad. In that way, our compost bin is a bit of a crutch, and we’re trying to break ourselves of that lazy habit.

      • Holly says

        I agree, I’ve also found myself thinking that I can just throw it in the compost bin. One of our latest habits is to try to finish what we have in the house before we go grocery shopping. It seems overly simply but this way we have a pretty good idea of what we have and how old it is. We started that when we actually had to throw out canned food! How sad is that?


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