“Eat your peas! There are children starving in Africa!” “No dessert until you eat all the food on your plate!” “Waste not, want not.”

Today, June 5, 2020, is the United Nations Environment Programme’s World Environment Day. The theme of the day is “Think.Eat.Save.” Its focus is on preventing food waste.

The pithy little sayings above, credited to parents around the world, have a fascinating basis in Jewish life. Judaism not only expects individuals to demonstrate gratitude for the food they have, but to also take measures not to waste that food.

Judaism’s waste management program for food actually begins in the field, when the Torah instructs the farmer to allow those in need to collect that which is left on the ground after the harvest. Not only is this a lesson in giving charity, but it is also a built-in system to help decrease food waste.

The most prominent halacha (Jewish law) that deals with preventing food waste is known as bal tashchit. This translates to “dare not waste,” and Judaism’s goal is not to wantonly waste. The concept of bal tashchit is derived from the commandment not to destroy fruit bearing trees, but is understood within Jewish law to refer to any situation of waste or wanton destruction.

In honor of Think.Eat.Save., Jewish Treats presents three suggestions to help fulfill the mitzvah of bal tashchit:

1) Review the contents of your pantry and refrigerator on a regular basis so that food is eaten or given away to those in need before it spoils.

2) Find creative ways to re-serve leftovers.

3) If you host a party or event, arrange in advance with a food bank or similar recycling organization to receive the leftovers from the event for proper distribution.

This Treat was originally posted on June 5, 2013.

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