After reading American Wasteland by Jonathon Bloom this past Winter, I felt the definite disconnect in homes these days when it comes to food waste. I don’t necessarily think families intend or want to waste, but many just don’t know how to make the most of the foods they purchase. As I made my way through the book, I began looking at my own waste. I quickly realized that most of my waste was food waste. As a result, I started composting. I was able to reduce my weekly curbside garbage pick-up to once a month!
I began to wonder, what if every home composted? I started asking customers at the farmers’ market if they composted. And, to my surprise many did. Which prompted the question, what other things could we do to help reduce household waste? One thing that came to mind was to reduce the waste from spoiled leftovers. Which I discovered was a common problem for many American families, while watching my nieces & nephew for a few months.
I decided to use my brother’s kitchen as a laboratory. I rolled up my sleeves, grabbed a trash can, got comfortable on the kitchen floor and decided to do a refrigerator dump. I discovered containers filled with leftovers from dinner, Chinese take-out, a container of mushroom soup I dropped off several days ago, uneaten because they were forgotten about. I found spoiled fruits and vegetables in drawers, with fresh fruits and vegetables stacked on top from a recent shopping trip. Could any of this be saved? How could I help? After a fun filled evening of chucking food, I decided to continue the experiment. I hoped to find out why they thought there were so many leftovers and spoiled, uneaten food in the refrigerator. The general consensus was that the waste was caused by not knowing the schedule for that particular week, buying what they “thought” they needed at the market, and the finicky eating habits of the kids.
So, what can we do to combat this frustrating problem? A problem that’s costing us money that could equate to a nice vacation at the end of the year? After the refrigerator dump experiment at my brother’s, I discovered the one thing I use in my kitchen that their household did not was the freezer. The freezer is my saving grace when it comes to making the most of my food purchases. For example: When I make a big pot of chili or spinach pie, if by day three I haven’t made a dent in it, I pack it up and freeze it to enjoy later. Sometimes I’ll make a dish, and as soon as it cools, freeze for a quick weeknight dinner later on. This may seem like common sense to some, but I believe the freezer is under utilized in most kitchens. Another great tip, shared by my college friend Paula years ago has saved me hundreds of dollars over the years. Instead of letting the ground meat (you intended on grilling up – but never got around to) go to waste, fry it up on the stove, drain, and freeze it. It can be used for a quick easy meal of tacos or casserole another night.
Another tip shared in American Wasteland, was to be more realistic about when will be actually cook at home. So often, we have the best intensions to cook dinner five or six nights a week, but end up eating out three to four nights a week due to scheduling conflicts or being too tired to cook. If we could all be a little more realistic with our expectations and our grocery lists, we would minimize our waste, decrease the land needed for landfills and ultimately put more money in our pockets.