At church today, one of the facilities fellows pulled me aside. "I noticed last night [after a large group dinner event] that the leftover fruit salad got thrown in the trash. It was a lot of fruit. I think next time it could all be marked 'Help Yourself' and put out for the staff the next day." A brilliant idea, of course, but one requiring a bit of foresight and organization. Two qualities, alas, which are sometimes in short supply.
Take the dumping of food that happens just at home. Vegetables that liquefy mysteriously over the course of weeks in the "crisper." Leftovers that get tossed after one reheat (if even). That jar of odd ingredient purchased to make a particular recipe and then never used again.
The Economist reports that Americans end up throwing out about a quarter of the food purchased in shops or restaurants. "Top of the list come salads, about half of which are chucked away. A third of all bread, a quarter of fruit and a fifth of vegetables." This dumping adds up to 96 billion pounds per year, according to Robyn O'Brien, author of The Unhealthy Truth. Yowza. If we had some kind of magic insta-transporter to redistribute wasted food alone, that would take care of the hunger problem for nine billion people worldwide!
In the absence of such a useful invention, however, let me offer suggestions for a food version of Reduce-Reuse-Recycle:
- Have a weekly Clean Out the Fridge Night. Or, as one friend calls it, "The Week in Review." A smorgasbord of tiny offerings. If you don't have enough to make a family meal, have a Lunch in Review. Out of guilt and laziness today, my lunch was 1/4 cup mac & cheese topped with 1/2 cup leftover lima beans, with a side of 1/4 cup roasted butternut squash. Some friends and I used to do potluck leftover lunches. Exactly what they sounded like, and no one had to cook (again).
- Make a food chain. The Economist article says the #1 throwaway food is salad. Because, unless it's a chopped salad, it just doesn't taste great the next day. If you have friends or neighbors who you know eat later than you, make a food chain! Bring them some salad. Maybe you can swap for a food item at their house. You might be sick of your leftovers after one or two goes, so why not exchange them? I know I always feel food tastes better if someone else made it for me.
- Use that freezer. I roasted the last of the butternut squash a couple days ago, mashed it all up and separated it into freezer bags. Now I've got three future meals/sides: squash for soup, squash for ravioli, and squash for squash. I freeze soup, beans, the other half of the cornbread. A friend suggested I skip buying boxed tomatoes next year and just wash, chop and freeze the upcoming harvest. No need to can.
- Whip up a frittata or rock soup. These are great ways to use stray odds and ends. Use cooked bits in frittatas and raw or cooked in soup. The links are just ideas. Feel absolutely free to improvise. Leftovers also make their way into fried rice, in our house. Just chop it up. A couple weeks ago, the concoction of the day was Hot-Dog Fried Rice. Anything goes.
If you have other waste not, want not ideas, please feel free to share. And if you have doggy bags from any of our fabulous local restaurants that you don't want to deal with, you know where I live...