On Monday, April 20th at 9pm ET, I’ll be a panelist for a #NoFoodWasted Twitter party hosted by Green is Universal. So I thought I better write up some of my best food-waste-busting ideas in preparation.
1. Buy less food more frequently
If you shop a couple of times a week and buy only what you need, you will enjoy fresher food and waste less of it.
Yes, I realize some people find buying two weeks’ worth of processed food at Costco convenient. Shopping this way leaves you more time to watch cooking shows or scroll through pics of people’s lunches on Instagram (I am on IG drooling over food way too much!). But let’s put aside for a moment the wasteful over-packaging of processed food, its nasty ingredients and the insatiable corporate greed of, oh, I’ll pick on Nestlé again because it’s just so easy and I feel lazy tonight. Even if I could somehow magically make these unpalatable aspects of processed food disappear, one truth remains: the stuff tastes bad.
The most sustainable food—locally sourced ingredients from small organic family farms—also happens to taste the best. Now that’s what I call convenient!
adjective con·ve·nient \kən-ˈvēn-yənt\
: allowing you to do something easily or without trouble
: located in a place that is nearby and easy to get to
2. Ditch the recipes
This may sound like heresy to some. Although I do love my cookbooks, I do not choose a different recipe from them every night for dinner. My refrigerator would soon overflow with little bits of ingredients I didn’t use and all sorts of leftovers my diners may turn their noses up at. Instead, I get creative and use what I have on hand. Here’s a quick example: The other night I roasted a couple of free-range, organic chicken thighs on a bed of cubed organic farmer’s market potatoes I had tossed with salt and just a little local olive oil. We didn’t eat even half of the potatoes, so the next night I cracked a few of my organic pastured eggs onto the potatoes, sprinkled the eggs with salt and freshly ground pepper and stuck the baking dish back in the oven. The result tasted SO delicious! And it proved that you don’t need to follow elaborate recipes to enjoy delicious food. You simply need really good ingredients, a pinch of know-how and a dash creativity.
3. Re-evaluate what you consider trash
So I just told you to throw out the recipes and will now list a pile of recipes. Consider most of these techniques rather than strict instructions. I make the following dishes out of what many people would throw out:
- Crackers, waffles, pancakes and tortillas from discarded sourdough starter
- Vegetable broth from scraps I store in the freezer until I have a pile
- Bone broth from bones I store in the freezer until I have a pile
- Bread crumbs from stale bread (stale bread has so many uses)
- Watermelon rind pickles
- Fried potato skins
- Lard from free pork fat my butcher otherwise throws in the garbage
- Scrap vinegar
- Candied citrus peels
- Chai with citrus peels
4. Take care of produce as soon as you get it home
I mentioned some of this in a post last week about the drought here in California. This step makes my week much less chaotic and ensures that we’ll eat what I take. On Sunday, for example, I came home from the farmer’s market with the goodies pictured below, a slightly smaller haul than usual.
I filled a bowl with water, washed the cleanest produce first (strawberries), ended with the dirtiest (radishes) and watered a plant outside with the resulting dirty water. Next, I halved some of the strawberries and froze them on a cookie sheet in the freezer before transferring them to a jar. (These would have been great for smoothies had we not eaten them all.) I packed the spinach, basil, radishes and carrots into separate containers in the refrigerator for easy access. All of this makes preparing lunches and cooking more convenient.
5. Store food in clear glass jars and containers
If you store leftover lasagna in an opaque container, you may forget about it until you stumble upon its slimy, rotting remains a couple of months later. Store food in glass in your refrigerator, your freezer and your cupboards, and you can see what’s in there at a glance.
6. Don’t stash everything in the refrigerator
Keep tomatoes in the refrigerator only if you want to render them flavorless. Store potatoes and onions in a cool place other than the refrigerator and separate from each other as they don’t get along well in close quarters. Bread dries out in the refrigerator so keep it at room temperature. (If you make real sourdough bread, it stays fresh for a week!)
7. Buy a smaller refrigerator
I have had this fantasy since my early twenties of abandoning my refrigerator (obviously I would starve if I wrote erotica). Maybe one day. I’m not suggesting you put your refrigerator out on the curb but when you do shop for a new one, consider downsizing. A small one may improve your health. It has less room, so you’ll buy less food and waste less. I certainly could live with a smaller one. Typically my refrigerator contains eggs, dairy, ferments, leftovers and all those prepped vegetables I mentioned earlier. Unbathed eggs will keep at room temperature. I could leave my ferments out too—they would merely ferment faster and develop stronger flavors.
8. Learn to preserve food
The Western diet, consisting of pre-packaged, processed convenience foods, does not require cooking skills. For this reason—at least in part—you can practically fit an American-size car into an American-size fridge. People used to preserve food through fermentation, salting and smoking. They would put up food when it was plentiful to prepare for when it would not be. If you find you have extra food on your hands, you can preserve it before it goes bad. Today, we rely on our refrigerators to preserve food for us. I am completely obsessed with fermentation as some of you know and I teach webinars and workshops on the topic. You can check out my latest schedule here.
What started out as tips to prevent food waste has morphed into a manifesto against refrigerators and I have by no means exhausted all food-waste-prevention tips. Of course you should also take inventory before you shop, make a shopping list, serve smaller portions and question those confusing expiration dates on packaged food before throwing out food. Better yet, avoid packaged food altogether and cook.