Food Waste in the Land of Plenty

What do you consider food waste in a land of plenty? When you make your weekly trip to the grocery store and pick out your produce do you look for only the most visually “perfect” items? When you get those items home, do you use everything or discard peels, pits, stalks, and stems?

At least once a month I’m called upon to go through a series of boxes of local organic produce that unless I utilize, will turn into food waste and go to the compost pile or the dump. In the last produce run I brought home eight boxes of mixed items; apples, several varieties of squash, citrus, kiwis, onions, and much more. After sorting through the boxes and separating each variety I had one full box of unusable scraps (i.e. mold/rotten). I put the scraps in our compost bin, which will turn to usable compost for soil maintenance. The other seven boxes I divided and made a plan of action for the fast ripening produce. The seven boxes so far have provided a weeks worth of fresh, local, organic produce to five different families. This does not include my son who gorged himself on a dozen different apples and citrus while I sorted through the boxes. I’ve also tested a new marmalade recipe utilizing the whole fruit. I still have a couple of boxes left and plan to test a natural pectin recipe, candied citrus and homemade stock recipes with the remaining items. If I had not put these boxes to use, every bit of produce would have become food waste. The waste goes into our landfills and dumps while people across the nation and beyond are going hungry.
Food Waste from CSAs

How do we educate and promote reducing food waste and using everything to its fullest ability? More importantly how do we change the way we view our consumption and waste habits? I see people every day acting as if there is an abundance of resources available – when in all reality there is not… at least not the way we are consuming today. If we managed our habits differently and stopped abusing our land & home (planet earth) then there very well may be resources plenty to take care of us all…but only if we change.

Here is an example of waste the average person may not consider. Today when visiting my mother we took a walk down the street to her small market to pick up a few produce items for her refrigerator. When we got home she unloaded her grocery bag and said, “I should trim the broccoli now before I put it away…” Trim? I asked her what she was trimming off the broccoli and she said it was most of the stem. Now who doesn’t love broccoli. Those tight green fluffy bunches of goodness. When most people think of eating broccoli, they look to the more visually appealing part of the plant, the florets. This behavior is obvious based on my own mother’s want to rid her produce of its fibrous stem and thick dark leaves. If it’s nutritional value that you’re looking for; every part of the plant is equally nutritious. The dark green leaves of the plant can be cooked like kale, collards, or any other leafy green. A good rinse and then sauté in a hot pan with fresh chopped garlic and a finishing drizzle of olive oil and fresh grated parmesan cheese. Clean the outside of the stalks to remove any blemishes and then chop small circles to be added to a stir fry, roasted with other vegetables, or steamed. The possibilities are endless to use the entire vegetable and not just the florets. Do a quick internet search on ‘broccoli stems or leaves” and you’ll have plenty of options.

Many of us were not as fortunate as those who grew up on a farm or within an agricultural community, to see how our food is brought to life. Many of us still do not have a complete grasp of where our food comes from, how it is grown, or even what it looks like while it’s growing. The typical grocery store chain has us “trained” in how we choose our produce. The eight boxes I received last week were from various CSAs (community supported agriculture) to remain unnamed. After sorting through all eight boxes I was left with one unusable box where the produce was beyond recognizable and moldy. The remaining boxes were, in my eyes, perfectly fine. If you were to take a closer look you’ll find a random bruise, a nick, or an odd-shaped discolored fruit. The customers of these programs seem to be complaining because we’ve yet to break away from uniform variety that we’ve become accustomed to. What grows in nature is not uniform. Everything is a different shape, size, and color. From these remaining seven boxes I’ve provided enough produce for five families to enjoy for week or more. The remaining produce has turned into cleaned & stored squash, jams, sauces, candied fruits, and natural pectin.

The food waste I describe is such a small part in the entire ‘wasteful picture’. There is waste from farms, restaurants, grocery stores, and the consumer. When products go unsold at grocery stores or restaurants they are thrown away, instead of donated. I am proud to say that the ranch I buy my grass-fed pasture raised beef from provides donations to our local food bank.

33 million tons of food waste was created in 2010. I’m not sure that we’ve grasped the big picture of this number. Food = $$ and when we throw out food, we’re throwing out money, a lot of money in an economy that is failing and a society that has more poverty-stricken families than ever before. “If we wanted to stimulate the economy all we’d have to do is cut food losses,” said anthropologist at the University of Arizona’s Bureau of Applied Research Anthropology.

One of my readers sent me a very interesting article on how sustainable chefs are taking a new approach to utilizing food that was deemed otherwise not fit to eat. I was going to rewrite the above sentence because ultimately this is not a new practice. Based on what both my great-grandparents did years ago – they were ahead of their time. In all seriousness it makes me happy to see that there are restaurants out there trying to practice less food waste culinary options.
Food Waste

It has been said that if we as people change our consumption habits and views on what is considered food waste we could change the landscape of what is considered a food crisis. We could fix the starvation problem. Here is a staggering statistic for you to think about, provided by Next Generation Food: “It is estimated that food wasted by the US and Europe could feed the world three times over. Food waste contributes to excess consumption of freshwater and fossil fuels which, along with methane and CO2 emissions from decomposing food, impacts global climate change. Every tonne of food waste prevented has the potential to save 4.2 tonnes of CO2 equivalent. If we all stop wasting food that could have been eaten, the CO2 impact would be the equivalent of taking one in four cars off the road.”
Food Waste

Before I change gears, here is one more impact that I didn’t consider when first looking into food waste… water waste. It takes a lot of water to grow food, especially in times like this when we’re experiencing a cold dry winter. If 30% of US food is thrown away, that is equal to 40 trillion liters of water that has gone down the drain never to be used again.

So…how do we fix it? Stop wasting…plain and simple. But is it really? Our lives have become busier than ever before; convenience and pre-made has become the way of life. I found a good blog post by the Sustainable Blog on some simple tips to get you going. It’s not drastic; just small changes to get you started. I am by no means perfect and am still learning how I can better use my ingredients, plan my meals, and simply waste less; and I challenge you to do the same. The future of our planet and our people depend upon it…

The images above and below are all produce that would have been taken to the dump or provided as compost if I had not used it. Please note any boxes shown DO NOT represent farms that provided the produce… they were just boxes I had available to carry and store.

Now tell me… does this produce look like it should have been thrown away???
Food Waste

Original post written on January 17th, 2012 by The Sustainable Sweet & Savory Gourmet at site:


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