Friday, December 11, 2009


10 ideas on not wasting food...

1. Eat leftovers regularly, and develop recipes that use small amounts of leftovers. For example, when we have leftover rice, we often make fried rice or rice pudding with it. Stale bread gets made into chocolate-banana bread pudding ... or croutons or panzanella (tuscan tomato and bread salad). A few extra stir-fried veggies go straight into the soup. We also have regular leftover lunches and dinners. Remember, just because it isn't enough for a whole meal for everyone doesn't mean you can't portion it out or send it as a lunch with someone.
2. Be realistic about what you will consume - don't order the giant sandwich if you don't ever finish it. Don't fill your cup to the brim at the drink fountain just because you paid for it. If you never eat the rice with your takeout chinese, tell them not to send it. If you don't want extra ketchup packages, don't take them - give them back.
3. Don't be overly tolerant of pickiness in your kids - but don't give them too much. Nobody ever died because their parents made them eat broccoli, so don't let your kids get away with whining about not liking it - and don't cook them special meals. Picky eating is a learned behavior for most people (there are some adults and children with legitimate sensory issues that are different than ordinary pickiness) - while everyone has a few food preferences, real pickiness is a product of affluence, and if you don't tolerate it, will go away. Don't over serve your kids, though - give them very small portions of each thing, and then expect them to clear their plates - they can always have more. It helps, btw, if parents model non-pickiness too, so make an effort.
4.Emphasize foods that don't go bad easily. If you make a lot of meals from staple foods that store well, supplemented with fresh stuff, you won't have as much waste as if you fill your fridge with fresh stuff that needs to be eaten now. Dry beans, whole grains and other stable foods last a long time and are good for you too.
5. Reduce your animal product intake - meat, milk and fish will always be the first things to spoil in your refrigerator. If you eat less of them, you'll do a great deal of environmental good all around - not excluding reducing food waste.
6. If you get a CSA basket or grow a garden, learn how to preserve your bounty for later, or find people to share with. Gardening or buying local isn't a magic bullet - lots of people find themselves struggling to figure out what to do with all that kale or those cucumbers. If you get them, you have two choices - find other people to share with, or learn to put them up. Preserving food can be very simple, and doesn't have to involve standing over a pressure canner all week - there are lots of ways to make that food last a little or a lot longer that are very easy. I actually wrote a whole book on that subject recently, and you can find it on my sidebar ;-).
7. Support your local hunger infrastructure at every step. Did your meeting at work leave extra sandwiches? Be the one who drops them at the soup kitchen or works out a company policy for donating food. Are you going apple picking? Bring some friends and collect drops for the food pantry. Do you have the power to redirect food waste to the hungry? If so, make sure it gets there.
8. Create markets for imperfect produce. The reality is that a lot of farmers don't have anywhere to sell tomatoes with a little scarring or that ear of corn that had to have the tip cut off. If you don't demand that your produce look absolutely perfect, you are telling that farmer "don't throw it on the compost pile, sell it to me." Get together with friends and neighbors and buy bulk produce that is slightly imperfect or overripe, and put it away for winter - those juicy peaches make great peach jam. 10% of all food is thrown out simply because of visual imperfections that have no effect upon the food's quality.
9. Focus on local. If food does get wasted, local, low-input farming reduces the number of barrels of oil and climate gasses produced as the food is being grown. A shorter time from harvest to purchase reduces food waste. Tastier, fresher produce entices you to actually eat it. There's nothing about local food that doesn't help with the waste equation.
10. Feed food scraps to something. This is an argument for backyard chickens, rabbits and other animals - those animals, raised in or near population centers can be fed in large part on food that would otherwise go to waste, converting scraps into usable eggs, meat and manure that can help feed more people. We folks who are already keeping poultry and other animals can talk to local cafes and restaurants about a "chicken bin." If you have food waste, consider getting something to feed it too - even city dwellers can often have poultry (7 out of the 8 largest cities in the US permit backyard chickens), while even apartment dwellers can keep worms. Or at a minimum, convert it to compost to help people grow more food - if you live somewhere where there's no chance to have animals or don't want them, agitate for community composting.

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