Culture of Waste - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Culture of Waste

Culture of Waste

Published October 10, 2008

Before arriving here, my strongest impressions of Iceland came from news panoramas about this geothermal-powered, arctic paradise. This is a country that brings the environmentally laced version of the word “green” to a whole new, inspirational level. Yet, upon actually stepping foot into an otherwise lovely Nordic society, I encountered this glaring paradox: a “green” country whose small roads are crowded with almost as many cars as there are Icelandic people (most of them being gas-guzzling SUV’s), and whose worldly duty to separate the trash into recyclables seems sparse, at best. I mean, really, I’ve never seen so many Styrofoam cups used, without remorse, to simply feed a country’s caffeine addiction.
    As a New Yorker, my ability to judge too quickly is simultaneously an instinct, a talent, and an Achilles heel that I’ve attempted to shed upon relocation. So, in spite of these offenses, I retract said judgments. I rationalise by highlighting Iceland’s knack for carbon neutralizing, (planting enough trees for every person in multitude). And okay, perhaps the rocky landscape and unpredictable weather necessitate the use of such monster cars.
    There remains one paradox, however, that I simply cannot overlook because it strikes, what I consider, the most prized parts and processes of my body: my stomach, my taste buds, and my ability to enjoy food to an almost criminal level. I’m not talking about traditional Icelandic cuisine, which I’ve come to embrace with my daily helpings of Skyr and Hardfisk. I’m talking about food waste.
    I can only assume that with slogans like “Choose Icelandic,” the people couldn’t be prouder of their ability to grow food in this difficult, temperate climate. Why, then, oh fabulous land that I now call home, do I encounter so much food waste here?
    In a food waste survey of approximately 500 families, conducted by Sorpa, 70% of Icelandic households admit to regularly throwing away some portion of their food. Compound this for every household in Iceland, and suddenly that seemingly little bit of trash accounts for a landfill full of unnecessary waste, and a hole in your bank account that could have been otherwise spent on your Saturday night beers.
    Of course, there’s the added implication that all this wasted food came in some form of plastic, glass, or paper packaging that most likely didn’t get recycled, and only exacerbates the problem. This is a violation that renders the environmental movement in Iceland a shade no richer than “diet green.”
    And, how did the food buying culture of modern day Iceland come so far from its roots of maximizing the utility of food? It’s fun for tourists and natives alike to delve into the wonders of slatur and revel in the adventuresome eating of ram testicles and sheep’s head, but the obvious must be pointed out: this is a tradition founded upon the very principal of preventing food waste. Should we not re-embrace some of these rituals simply for their practical value? Come now, everyone! Follow up that juicy lamb steak tonight with the sheep’s eyes and you not only have a soothing palate cleanser, you’ve prevented a bit of waste and stretched your kronur that little bit further.
    Okay, preaching over and scathing New York attitude put away, I promise. I guess the only thing I can do is to put my own words into practice and try to see the silver lining here. Maybe this economic crisis, the ever-escalating price of food, and my personal effort to prevent food waste can finally help me fit into those skinny jeans everyone seems to be so fond of.


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