To me, there’s nothing more painful than to throw food away.
Just because we are privileged to live in an era where food is so abundant doesn’t mean we should take it for granted. Not only do we eat way more than our bodies need, but we also throw away about a third of the food we produce. Here are some interesting statistics:
- According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), American families throw away up to $2,275.00 worth of food every year.
- About 20% of the methane gas we emit comes from untreated food waste.
When you think of the amount of resources, labor, raw material, water, and fuel put into growing, processing, packing, and delivering food to a store near you, it just feels wrong to let all that effort go to waste.
One of the main concepts in Permaculture is about utilizing every element to its fullest. Find more than one use to things, and if something gets old, repurpose it, upcycle it, do whatever you want with it, but don’t throw it away.
So as far as food goes, here are a few basic concepts that you can do to reduce waste. Under each one are listed a bunch of ideas of how to manifest those principles in real life.
First In, First Out (FIFO)
When unpacking groceries, move older products to the front of the fridge/freezer/pantry and put new products in the back. This way, you’re more likely to use up the older stuff before it expires.
If you’re thinking about what to make for dinner, use products with a short life span first, like fresh fruit and vegetables, before you open canned foods or dry grains, which can last a lot longer.
Use it all. When cooking, use every piece of whatever food you’re cooking whenever possible. For example, leave the skin on cucumbers, potatoes, and mangos, sauté broccoli stems along with the flowers, and so on.
Note upcoming expiration dates on foods you already have at home and plan meals around the closest to their expiration products. Label dates on items in your freezer, so you know when each item was frozen. Place this on the freezer door for easy reference and use items before they pass their prime.
Remember, expiration dates refer to the time when products are at their peak quality. If stored properly, most foods can stay fresh several days past the “use-by” date. If a particular food looks, smells, and tastes okay, it’s probably safe to eat. If any of these elements are off, move it to the next section of the food chain: feed it to your chickens or add it to your compost heap or wormery.
Instead of cooking a new meal, search your cupboards and fridge for leftovers that might otherwise get overlooked.
Improve Your Food Storage
Learn how and where to store specific products in the fridge and freezer, and they’re likely to keep longer.
Here’s a great infographic by the USDA
Check the fridge. Make sure it’s functioning at maximum efficiency. Look for tight seals, proper temperature, etc., to ensure that the fridge keeps food fresh as long as possible.
Freezers and refrigerators run more efficiently when they’re full, so feel free to put anything in there, even things that don’t necessarily need refrigeration. I put all my dry grains in the freezer. It prevents moths from going in there and keeps them longer. The best thing about it is that you can save up to 30% of your energy bill with these changes.
If you find yourself tossing half a loaf of bread each week, perhaps it’s time to start freezing half that loaf the moment you buy it, so it doesn’t go stale before you’re able to eat it. Likewise, you can store many foods to last, with a bit of planning.
Chips/cereal/crackers can be stored in airtight containers — this should help them keep longer.
If you buy frozen goods in bulk, label freezer bags with the date you put them in and attempt to use them within six months. Put an inventory list on the freezer and refrigerator to keep track of contents and expiration dates.
Are you tired of dumping soggy herbs from your refrigerator? The new herb saver by Click & Grow will keep your herbs fresh for longer so you can eat them before they go off.
If you tend to cook too much food, divide the leftovers into portions and freeze for later. Use them as quick microwave dishes when you don’t have time to cook or as flavorsome starters for soups and stews. If the soup contains potatoes, chucking it all in the blender will remove their sogginess and create a rich, creamy texture that goes perfectly with croutons- see below.
Preserve Produce While It’s Fresh
Got more fruit than you can eat? Try cutting them up and placing them in mason jars. This way, you’re more likely to eat them, and they will last longer in the fridge or freezer.
Get Baking! Fresh apples, peaches, pears, berries, cherries, and virtually any kind of fruit make a great addition to sponge cakes. If you have fruit trees in your garden, invite friends over for a fun pick & bake day and let everyone take some home.
Make Pickles! Both fruits and vegetables can be preserved through pickling. Traditional german sourkraut (cabbage) is my personal favorite, but you can also pickle cucumbers, cornichons, cauliflower, peppers, carrots, olives, and whatever else you have excess of.
Preserve produce. Produce doesn’t have to be tossed just because it’s reaching the end of its peak. Blend soft fruits into smoothies, wilting vegetables into soups, patties, etc.
Dry, grind and store citrus zest, herbs, peppers, and berries to add flavor to meals and desserts.
Salvage foods that have gone off
Turn sour milk into cheese by filtering the sour milk through a nylon sock and hanging it over the sink to let the excess water drip out. Add salt, pepper, and seasoning to spice things up, and you got yourself a delicious chunk of homemade cheese. The longer you let it drip, the harder the cheese will be.
Turn overripe fruit into Compote. Cut up the fruit and cook on low fire with a portion of brown sugar. The more sugar you add, the longer the life span of the compote will be. It makes a delicious dessert when served cool, either in itself or as an addition to ice cream, cakes, soda, and alcohol.
Turn dry bread into croutons. Cut up the bread into small pieces and toss it in a large bowl. Add olive oil, garlic, and herbs. Once all the ingredients are well mixed, place in the oven at 180 degrees celsius and wait about 10 minutes for the croutons to brown. Add to soups and salads for a delicious crunch.
If you eat meat and chicken, use leftover bones to make broth. Boil the bones in water for 15 minutes and pour the liquid into a cupcake tray so you can quickly add flavor to the dishes that you prepare.
Before you go shopping for food, take a look at any leftovers in the fridge, vegetable rack, freezer, and cupboards. If you’ve been following my recommendations so far, you should have quite a lot of goodies in your freezer.
Cook tired veggies. Vegetables that are starting to go soft are excellent for pureed soup or pasta sauces. Half a tin of tuna could be tonight’s pasta bake, and a few spoons of cooked mince make amazing pasties.
Brown-bag your leftovers so you can take them to work or school. If you don’t want to eat leftovers the day after they’re cooked, freeze and save them for later.
If you have pieces of veggies that you can’t eat, try sprouting them instead. You would be surprised by how easy it is to regrow celery, carrot, lettuce, green onions, cabbage, and other food scraps into actual plants that you can easily harvest within days.
Here’s a quick infographic by WholeFoods about sprouting leftover veggies
Donate food scraps to local farms for feeding animals or adding to a compost heap.
Compost! Hate potato skins? Don’t feel like turning wilted vegetables into soup stock? No worries; food scraps still don’t need to be tossed. Just start a compost pile in the backyard or even under the sink and convert food waste into a rich soil booster for your garden.
Change your eating habits
Check-in with your belly. Take a moment to ask your body what it wants to eat, when, and how much. Start with less food on your plate. If you want more, you can always go back for it — but this way, you won’t find out that you’re full and still have a heap of food in front of you.
Go trayless. When eating in a cafeteria, skip the tray. Doing so is associated with reducing food waste, possibly because it’s harder for people to carry more food than they can eat. If you still want a try, share it with a friend.
Split the dish. If eating out, split a dish with a friend, so you don’t waste half of the giant portion sizes found at many restaurants.
Take home leftovers. Bonus eco points if you bring your own reusable container and you’ve got yourself a free lunch the next day.
Share what you won’t use. If you have an excess of food, you’re not going to eat, gift it to friends, family, or neighbors or donate it to a food kitchen before it expires. Check out this resource to locate a food bank near you.
Educate other people. Talk to people about why you do all this to spread awareness to reducing food waste. Together we can make it, one meal at a time.