Jul 11, 2011

Easy ways to cut down on food waste

I've always felt guilty about throwing out food - and we eat so many vegetables in our house that it ends up being 3/4 of our weekly garbage (living in an apartment means no city food scraps pickup). I'd had a compost for a while, but was still throwing out fruits and veggies every week, much to my frustration. Finally, the kick in the ass I needed to start getting creative came in book form: American Wasteland by food journalist Jonathan Bloom. The stats are shocking (almost 1/2 of all food produced in the US ends up in the landfill), but some of his big- and small-picture ideas on what we can do to change it are pretty inspiring.

Here are some of the simple ways I've been able to cut down on food waste over the last few months:

Plan your meals
This seems like a no-brainer, but it's hard to make a habit of. I try to plan meals around what we've already got in the house. Got half a cabbage left? Make coleslaw. Got a random assortment of vegetables? Buy tofu, make a stirfry. Got the inevitable 3/4 bunch of cilantro left from that one meal last week? Do a quick surf of Fuck Yeah Cilantro. Most of all, do a cruise of your fridge and cupboards before you go shopping. You'd be surprised at how many meals you can pull out of what's already in your house. Do not, and I repeat, DO NOT, go grocery shopping without a list. You'll walk out with 3 shopping bags full of yogurt, pasta and chips and not a single actual meal before you even realize what happened.

Get a worm compost
This is way less work than most people realize. Once you get it set up, you just throw in the veggies (no meat or bread, please) and the worms will do the rest. Many cities run compost programs, which means you can get a compost at a subsidized price. Vancouver has an awesome worm composting for apartments program, which I did last summer. You get the compost, the worms, a how-to book and a workshop on what to do with it - all for the bargain price of $25. Even better - if you don't have a garden and thus nowhere to put your compost when it's ready, you can give it back to the City, who will use it in their gardens. Get more info on the City of Vancouver website, or check your city's website for a similar program.

Make your own stock
Worms can only eat so much of our crap. If you eat a lot of veggies (like P & I do), there will be too many scraps for your worms to keep up with (which equals stinkiness, flies and other lovely issues). An easy solution? Save the rest of your scraps and make your own veggie stock. Onion peels, garlic peels, carrot skins, spinach stems and any veggies that are just a little too soft to eat all work. Throw them in ziploc bags or tupperwares and keep them in the freezer until you're ready to make the broth.

2 weeks of veggie scraps
When you're ready to make it, fill a large stock pot 2/3 full of frozen veggie scraps, fill it up so there's just about an inch of water on top, and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and let it sit on a low boil for about an hour. Drain, add salt to taste and you're good to go. I usually freeze it in 2-cup portions for making rice, soup, curry, whatever.

veggie broth, coming right up!
I love this because I can get rid of scraps, plus I don't have to spend money on buying broth. Win! Tip: if you're a carnivore, save the bones  next time you make chicken and add them to the above recipe for a chicken stock. (Thanks Tracey for the tip on this one!)

Repurpose leftovers
Before I go through the fridge and start throwing stuff out, I pause for a sec and ponder if there's anything else I can do with it besides giving it a one-way ticket to the landfill. For example, fruit smoothies are a great way to get rid of over-ripe, bruised and overall less-than-attractive fruit. I promise, you won't taste that the pear was bruised and a little shrivelly when it's blended into a tasty fruit beverage.

Don't toss me! I still have so much to give...
Another good one is stale bread - before you chuck it, toss it on a baking sheet, bake until hard and crunch it up to make bread crumbs (similar to making stuffing). Tortillas are my latest favourite food to repurpose - with two of us in the house, it's hard to get through a pack of 12. I've started making tortilla chips out of the last few: just cut into triangles, toss with olive oil and salt and bake for 15 mins or so at 375. Eaaaasssyyyy.

Home-made tortilla chips

It's definitely a work in progress, and I know there are many other ways I could be cutting down. Although I'm still a food-saving amateur, I feel pretty good that I've been able to divert a good chunk of our food from the garbage can over the last few months. If you're interested in doing the same, I'd highly recommend American Wasteland - it's fairly fact-heavy, but also fascinating and inspiring. Huge thanks to blog Eat Drink Better for hooking me up with a copy as part of a giveaway on their site.

Got any ideas on how to cut down on food waste? Feel free to share!

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