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Waste Not, Want Not

July 30, 2018

More than once, my grandma mentioned that “waste not, want not” phrase. She also frequently reminded us that there are people starving throughout the world, so we’d better appreciate our food by cleaning our plates. Grandma would probably be horrified to learn that today, the United States is one of the worst culprits when it comes to wasting food; food waste is estimated at between 30-40 percent of the food supply. The percentage comes from the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Economic Research Service of 31 percent food loss at the retail and consumer levels, which corresponded to approximately 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food in 2010 (usda.gov/oce/foodwaste/faqs.htm).

Reading stats like those immediately conjures up news footage of starving children and adults in our own country and globally, as well as all the earth’s resources such as water that’s used to produce food that’s ultimately never consumed. Grandma’s “waste not, want not” words immediately echo in my head, but instead of feeling guilty, let’s look at some solutions to help reduce food waste:

Don’t overbuy: This tip might seem obvious, but it can take real discipline to avoid buying on impulse, or loading up because the item is such a great deal. Be conscious and consider whether you will really use up that 10 pound bag of potatoes that’s on sale; if you waste half the bag, it’s not such a good deal after all. Do you need only one carrot for a recipe? If so, don’t buy a whole bag. Most produce departments offer loose items, so you can buy only what’s needed. Try not to shop when you’re in a hurry, as that can further lead to impulse buys.

Consider what lasts, and what doesn’t: With an abundance of summer fruits in season, it’s easy to want to grab them all, considering that Wisconsin’s summer growing season is so short. But unless you plan to preserve that bushel of peaches, or make lots of pie or freeze that box of beautiful Michigan blueberries, buy small. Blueberries keep better than raspberries, which can go bad in what seems like minutes.  Unless you plan to eat raspberries right away, choose fruit that keeps longer and that you can still enjoy later in the week.

Don’t be afraid of ugly produce: We’re conditioned to think tomatoes have to be perfectly round and red, or that carrots aren’t supposed to have legs, but nature produces lots of shapes and sizes. Some imperfect produce might look weird at a glance, yet these items are still flavorful and safe to consume.

Try “kitchen sink” smoothies, casseroles and quiches: Produce on the verge of going bad can still make tasty additions to dishes and drinks. Slightly mushy fruit can be tossed into smoothies, juices, or mashed, heated and sweetened with a little sugar or honey to make ice cream topping.  Chop that wilted broccoli or spinach to use in a quiche or casserole.

Don’t toss those veggie tops: Did you know that wispy green carrot tops taste remarkably like parsley? I didn’t, until I talked to a chef who tipped me off as to how he uses vegetable tops to jazz up dishes. Instead of lopping off and tossing carrot tops, use them in place of parsley or to flavor soup stock. Beet tops can also be sautéed and seasoned to eat in place of greens.

Compost: Despite our best efforts to reduce food waste, there will still be that occasional tomato that rolls to the back of the refrigerator, or a few potatoes that go bad. If you have the space on your property, start a compost pile. I have a small city yard, so I use a compact rotating compost bin with a latching door. It fits discreetly into the corner of the yard near my garage, and every spring, I have rich, nutritious soil to add to the garden. Not a gardener? Compost anyway, and give the product to your gardener friend or relative, or contact a local composting organization like Kompost Kids (kompostkids.org) or a community garden to see if they can use your food scraps.

Sheila Julson is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Natural Awakenings magazine.

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