40% of food in America is wasted. Whether it is the takeout you didn’t finish, the leftovers no one wants, or the veggies you bought last week that moulded in the back of your refrigerator, many people are careless about food. Yet, America, the land of plenty, has estimates of hunger statistics that range from 1 in 4 children to 1 in 6 adults suffering from chronic hunger or food insecurity. Whether it is 1 in 5 or 1 in 20, I find any figure to be unacceptable. I am horrified at the cavalier attitude people take towards food when so many at home and abroad can’t find enough to eat.
What we need is a change in attitude. The best motivator is to get out an volunteer at a food pantry or food recovery program. As a teenager, I thought no one in my neighborhood went hungry until I dropped off a donation at our local food pantry. I was completely shocked by the long wait lines and the lack of food choices, especially fresh fruits and vegetables. (This was a number of years ago, and lately efforts have been made to provide access to fresh produce and better quality food in hard to reach areas.) This goes beyond principles as well – disposing of food waste costs an estimated $1 billion per year. That is your tax dollars for the garbagemen and landfills. The environmental toll of processing, packaging, and sometimes preparing food, only have it to go directly into the trash, is callous and damaging. This matter is growing increasingly serious and relevant for everyone as the exploding world population continues to compete for scarcer resources. Conserving resources now is an investment for the future, and I’m not talking several generations down the line.
So what to do? Start here. Real Simple has an easy guide for reducing food waste, including planning a better shopping list, organizing your fridge, and strategizing with take-out. Update: how to freeze food so you will actually use it again!
Follow the practices of previous generations and use only what you need. If I am getting tired of eating a certain type of leftover, I freeze a portion so I can have a home-cooked meal later in the month during a busy time. If some vegetables are about to go and I won’t use them up in time, I cut them up and freeze them for later use in stir frys or chili. Overripe fruit works well in baked goods or smoothies. Think a little outside the box with your food preparation, and you will realize everything can be used at least twice. When I boil pumpkin for breakfast, the water turns into vegetable stock I can use for my weekly soup-making. Fish and meat bones, as well as vegetable scraps, can be used to make homemade stock. Slightly dry rice or risotto can be moulded in cakes and pan-fried or grilled. I actually love cooking with leftovers because half the work is already done. Last night’s roast chicken can be heated up with some spices as taco filling. And if you are the type of person who hates leftovers? Don’t cook for four people if there is only one or two of you, or invite some friends over to share.
And compost!! All of the nutrients that are extracted from the soil used to go back into it, rather than wasted in a landfill. Find an awesome compost container to fit under the sink and then create a spot in your backyard or community garden. Kids + dirt = great home project and teachable moment.
But if composting isn’t an option – try making this homemade stock from your vegetable peels, with the option of adding meat bones and trimmings (turkey anyone?). Just wash the peels of onions, carrots, etc., before throwing them in the pot, and you can walk away while a great stock simmers! I use this recipe from the Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen as a base, but sometimes all I have is a chicken carcass and some salt.
Homemade stocks add great flavor to soups, chili, and stews. I made this simple soup when I was down with a cold last week, and it was all I wanted to eat for several days!
Simple Turkey and Vegetable Soup
1 tablespoon olive oil or turkey drippings
1 medium onion
1 large carrot
2 – 3 celery stalks
2 cups chopped napa cabbage
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 heaping tablespoons Italian herbs
6 cups homemade vegetable, chicken, or turkey stock
about 1 cup leftover chicken or turkey, optional
Chop onion, carrot, and celery into a rough dice. In the bottom of a large pot, saute vegetables in olive oil or drippings on medium heat until they begin to soften and sweat, about 5 minutes. Add cabbage and spices and saute for another 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and saute for 30 seconds, then add stock. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes. If using meat, add it right before serving while the burner is on low heat. All you want to do is heat the chicken or turkey thoroughly. If you cook it for too long it will become tough and dry. You can add salt and pepper to taste once the soup is prepared, but I find it best to add at the end to avoid over-salting. Enjoy!
もったいない (mottainai) is a Japanese word that roughly translates to “wasteful”. Oftentimes I hear mothers’ say this to their children in a way that I interpret as, “be careful not to waste!” or “what a waste!”
Learn (and Do) More!
Hunger in America: http://www.npr.org/series/5023829/hunger-in-america
Wasted Food: incredibly helpful blog by Jonathan Bloom with a recent post on Thanksgiving leftovers!
Discovery Channel brief on food waste: http://dsc.discovery.com/news/briefs/20041122/foodwaste.html
Start composting! Howtocompost.org
Reduce your consumption and recycle!
Learn more about the Zero Waste Movement
Gleaning Initiative: How Americans Can Help Recover Food
The Slow Movement: Gleaning and Recovery