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Gardeners Against Waste

We garden in part because we’re frugal. We have a longtime commitment to being careful with our resources, like money and food, as well as being wise stewards of the natural resources of the earth. I’m not to saying that we don’t waste anything, but that we work hard at being conscious of our consumption and waste, and that we make regular efforts to curtail both.

Today’s New York Times article about food waste was nonetheless an astonishing wake-up call. The idea of that much food — 27% of the food available for consumption in the US — ending up in the landfill is utterly nonsensical. As a society, we can do better than that.

Like so many individual changes that ultimately have a global impact, managing food waste starts in the home. Some “habits” of our household I learned in my mandatory home economics in 8th grade– and then relearned when I was on my own out in the world. Others have been culled from life-shaping resources like The More with Less Cookbook by Helen Janzen Longacre (AKA the Cookbook that Changed My Life; a review will follow shortly).

What can you do to manage food waste? Here are some of my suggestions and reminders.

1. Plan grocery shopping. This is such a significant effort that has an enormous payoff in the kitchen. Having a list prepared before you go to the store helps build discipline when you buy only what’s on your list. A list also saves extra trips to the store for forgotten items.

2. Plan meals. Actually, planning meals before going grocery shopping will have the most impact on food consumption and waste habits. Buying what you need to make specific meals, as opposed to what catches your eye that day in the market, insures that you have all of the ingredients on hand to prepare the meal and that you have less “extra” food sitting around.

3. Cook proportionately. If you don’t like having the same meal twice or taking leftovers for lunch, practice cooking just enough. When following a recipe, divide as necessary to make only the number of servings you need.

4. Use leftovers. Better still is learning to love and use leftovers. Sure, not all meals improve with keeping, but some do– like soup and chili. Many dishes can be frozen prepared and then heated up in a week or two — when they are something like a surprise! — rather than a leftover.

In our home, we also employ a couple of food-saving habits that, for some people, probably border on weird. Like all habits, however, when they become part of your pattern of being, you hardly think at all about the efforts involved.

5. The broth bag. We keep a gallon ziploc bag in the freezer which holds the start of the makings of homemade broth. Usable scraps like onion tops, celery ends, and leftover vegetables of the milder sorts go into the bag. (Nothing scary or questionable in terms of freshness. Spoiled things go directly to the compost bucket. A little foresight, however, saves still good food from going that route.) The couple of tablespoons of juice from cooking meat in a pot or pan when a sauce is not made also goes into the bag. We also add bones from chicken, beef and pork, raw or cooked. (We often keep a second bag for seafood scraps). About once a month or when the bag is full and the weather cool, we put a stockpot on the stove and simmer the stock for several hours. (That’s also a good time to do a quick perusal through the fridge and pantry for fading vegetables to add to the pot.) We cool, skim and freeze or use the broth right away.

6. The bread bag. We keep a gallon ziploc bag in the freezer for bread ends and other miscellaneous bread stuffs. Frozen crusts can be grated quickly for addition to recipes or to top off a casserole. When the bag gets full, we make meatballs or meatloaf, adding bread crumbs to give the meat a lighter texture and stretch the protein.

7. The tomato sauce container.
We eat a lot of pasta with different types of tomato sauces and the sauce-to-pasta ratio doesn’t always come out evenly, depending on the number of family members home for dinner and their level of hunger. A quart-size container on the freezer door catches all of the leftover tomato-based sauces. I also add that little bit of salsa left in the jar, the extra canned tomatoes above what was needed in a recipe, tomato soup, even that last dollop of ketchup– the only requirement is tomato-based-ness. When that container gets full, I cook it down, adding seasonings as necessary and use the never-to-be-duplicated sauce in a pasta or pizza recipe.

These are just some of our ideas of making good use of the food we have. As prices increase and various shortages are threatening on the horizon, doing nothing to change our eating habits really isn’t an option. Change starts in our homes, in our kitchens, in our gardens, where we shop. We can make decisions to make the best of what we have instead of making more garbage.

Posted in • Growing.