Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Food ... Glorious Food

Recently, to kick off the holiday season, we watched "A Christmas Carol". I love the scene where Scrooge comes out of his bedroom to find the Ghost of Christmas Present sitting atop a bountiful table of delicious food. This scene seems to represent everything we hold dear ... a table with plenty ... a generous and happy spirit ... the very essence of human kindness. In homes around the world, we try to recreate that opulence and generosity ... offering our guests much more than they could ever consume. And what is left over often becomes landfill waste.

As landfill contributions go, I've always thought that food would be less imposing than other items. After all, it will compost down and ultimately enrich the soil, right? Unfortunately ... there are problems with this thinking. To maximize the space used for landfills, the trash is compacted before being buried in the soil. These tidy bricks of garbage are air tight ... preventing decomposition. Simply put, the process of composting requires air. No air ... no compost. For landfills which allow organic materials to compost, there's another problem. We simply have too much waste. According to the EPA, methane (the gas produced by food waste) traps 23 times as much heat in the atmosphere as the same amount of CO2. Landfills account for 34 percent of all methane emissions in the U.S.

So ... how do we prevent food waste? I'm glad you asked. Here are some ideas:
  • Planning a party? When entertaining, consider sending leftovers home with guests.

  • Plan ahead ... twice. When I shop, I have an idea of what I'd like to cook during the week. This ensures that I have a use for everything ... and if I stick to my plan, everything gets used. But what happens when that dish that sounded oh so great at the beginning of the week, sounds less than appetizing today? That's where planning ahead twice comes in. Be sure that for every item purchased, an alternate dish is considered.

  • Don't shop hungry ... and bring a list. Grocery stores are in the business of selling. They plan out their displays to entice us. And who can resist that box of donuts when their stomach is growling. So eat before shopping and make up a list ... it'll help avoid any impulse buying.

  • Buy local produce. Have you ever purchased a bag of produce at a supermarket chain, just to get it home and find that there are rotten items at the bottom of the bag? Or how about those lovely tomatoes ... grown halfway around the world ... that are black inside? Produce in big chain supermarkets is older and typically isn't handled with care, causing many items to become bruised or broken which speeds up the decaying process. Buying produce locally ensures that the item is fresh ... which means less waste.

  • Buying in bulk saves money and lessens the amount of packaging that gets sent to the landfill. However, one must use caution when buying large quantities. Ensure that the item being purchased has an adequate "use by" date. Also, make sure that the item is something you'll actually use. Most items, regardless of their shelf life, will get tossed out if, after a year or so, they haven't been used up.

  • Store foods properly. If the food you purchase doesn't come with storage instructions, check out the Internet. Storing food properly will ensure it's maximum shelf life and safety ... not to mention it's taste.

  • Check your refrigerator ... and your pantry. Adopt the grocer's strategy and rotate. Foods that are out of sight, usually get forgotten. Browse the contents of your food storage areas often ... at least once a week. You'll remind yourself what's there and you can move forgotten items to the front where they'll get used instead of turning into fuzzy, green stuff.

  • Use what you have before shopping for more. In our house, we have fun with this. We try to use almost everything before making another shopping trip and this has generated some very creative meals.

  • Cook only what is needed. If you're cooking for two and the recipe is for eight ... cut it down. Even if your family adores leftovers, there comes a point when everyone is tired of the same old thing.

  • Don't toss out bits and pieces. You know the ones ... that last piece of bread in the package ... the crumpled chips at the bottom of the bag ... the peelings from the carrot you had at lunch. These things can be re-purposed. Save pieces of bread to make your own bread crumbs or take them to a park and feed the ducks. Crushed chips are great for topping a casserole or use them as coating for your favorite fried food. Vegetable peelings can be saved and turned into a natural, additive free, broth.

With a little effort, we can reduce ... if not eliminate ... food waste. And that ought to make the Ghost of Christmas Present joyous indeed.

As always ... I would love to hear from you!


  1. Thank you for adding me to your blog roll! I feel famous. This food blog is GREAT. I'm thinking you should start a commune with all these great ideas.. I mean if you win the lottery and can buy 1,000 acres somewhere green.. okay so maybe it's a stretch. But you would be FABULOUS as the leader of a a little city intent on being green.. which people would flock to and then it would grow and then it could take over the entire world. YOU COULD SAVE THE EARTH. Just a thought. Too much coffee. :)

  2. Thank you for the info. One of the things I do is I throw all of my organic waste out by my rose bush. I do not know how to grow roses or what they need to grow, but so far what I am feed them is working! They are huge. Coffee grinds are great for plants.

  3. Great ideas here. I like to shop with a list and feel "out of sorts" when I don't. I hate to waste food and throw things out. Part of it comes from working in the restaurant business and trying to keep food cost down.

    I need to compost more but it's hard when you live in an apartment.

  4. I was glad to see that I do many of these already! We always plant a vegetable garden in the spring, and right through autumn eat all our produce fresh from the garden or from one of several local farmstands. Another benefit is that the flavor just cannot be beat!

  5. I'm the best food recycler I know. NEVER throw food out, but turn it into something else. Big soups, gumbos and pot pies are awesome for cleaning out the fridge of leftovers.

  6. my goodness sf! another brilliant post! how do you get so many wonderful ideas, you are precious! the world needs lots more people like you :)))) love the post! thanks!

  7. Great information - I've been trying to waste less food but I had no idea just how bad food waste was! Thanks for enlightening me.


  8. great ideas, I hate wasting food so I'm going to print this off and stick it on my fridge at home - so my housemates have a look as well!
    Also, should you have bought too much food - freeze it. That way it won't go off in teh fridge just lying around.

  9. Food and our relationship with it plays such a huge part in our interaction with the environment. While I didn't go vegan initially because of the obvious huge benefits for the environment, I'l so happy with all the accidental pluses it brings!
    And I love A Christmas Carol - especially the George C. Scott rendition. I show it every year to my EFL classes here in France!

  10. "Planning ahead twice", now that's an original idea! I like it and all it means is pausing to consider before plopping items into your shopping cart. Local tomatoes grown hydroponically are available all winter and they taste almost as good as garden-grown ones.

  11. My mother used to keep leftovers for three days and then create what she called "slumgullian", it was always interesting.

    On the landfill methane; we should be tapping more of it for energy use. There was a story some years ago about a chicken farmer who dug a pits into which he dumped the chicken droppings. Within a short time, he was able to pipe the methane into tanks, converted his farm machines to run on it, and ran his farm with it.

  12. Wonderful information! Hardly any food is thrown out without being converted into different dishes or used for mulch. And don't forget to mention that some fruits, like orange peels, can be dried and placed into bags for the aroma to air out musty smells in rooms.

  13. This is great information! Food waste is a big problem for sure...I feel such guilt when I throw out leftovers.

    I like your tip about cutting down the recipe when you're just cooking for 1 or 2 people. That does save a lot of food!

    Thanks for this post!

  14. Love the tips, as always. We always overcook and need to cut down on the waste. I hope you don't mind, but I listed your site as one of 18 Great Resources in my latest entry.

    Take Care,

  15. Some excellent advice. We reuse all the left overs we can (having a dog helps), compost much of the rest or put it out for the City's composting green bin program.

  16. Hmmm, my family and friends don't call me garbage bin for nothing... hahaha... I normally end up finishing all the leftovers, which is why I normally don't order much food for myself!

    Thanks for sharing about this food wastage and decomposing problem. Never knew that.