No waste week…

That’s an awful lot of food piled up in the picture above, isn’t it? I’ve been reading a lot about food waste lately, and then NPR did a ‘Talk of the Nation’ show last  Friday called “The Ugly Truth About Food Waste in America” about the growing problem of it all. You can listen to the 20 minute program here. It just seems to be a subject calling me to write about, hoping in the process that I can challenge myself and my good readers to reduce our own food wastes. I’ll begin by admitting that I thought I was doing a pretty good job of not wasting food, until I began this little experiment of mine, and have realized the ugly truth is, I do waste more than I’d like to admit! So, I’m being more mindful of it now and consequently I have been able to reduce it some. I’ve also learned that the  average food stamp recipient receives approximately $4 per day, per person to feed themselves. That’s $112 a week for a family of four. Could you meet that challenge, week after week? It’s obvious you couldn’t have much food waste, or you’d run out of food before you ran out of month! Of course, making wise purchase decisions plays a large part in how far those SNAP benefits will stretch, but I digress…

I’ve never really considered it food waste if the dog eats it and I’m then able to reduce her daily kibble a bit. But in reality, with billions of people on this planet literally starving to death, feeding the dog that last spoonful of leftovers really does count as food waste. The dogs in those places are starving too, and I’m pretty sure a starving person wouldn’t give his last bite of food to a dog. So, with that in mind, and learning that 1 in 7 kids in the US are on Food Stamps, I’ve set out to reduce my own food wastes.

Onion, carrot and celery tops go into a bag in the freezer and then made into veggie broth once it’s full. The onion skins give the broth a warm, golden color too by the way! I started this little personal challenge last Monday, so I began the week carefully going through my frig to see what needed to be eaten first. I’d thawed a 2-cup box of cooked Cannellini beans over the weekend, but had only used one cup, so I spent a few minutes going through the indexes of my recipe books until I found one that called for that one leftover cup of beans. Because it was a coolish, rainy day, I decided on “Mushroom-Barley Soup” which also used up the quickly drying fresh mushrooms AND a medium-sized head of spring cabbage that were in the frig! Yes, harvested fresh and stored properly, cabbage will keep for months in the bottom of the frig. This was a great soup that gave us 2 big bowls for supper Monday night, as well as 2 more for lunch the next day, with none left over. The dog was NOT happy however. I made a skillet of fresh corn bread to go with it and we polished our meal  off with grapes and fresh-cut pineapple we’d bought on sale the week before. Tuesday evening we enjoyed ‘Aloo Gobi’, a curried dish that used half the head of cauliflower that I’d bought on sale for $2, our spring-grown red potatoes, fresh tomatoes from our garden, lots of spices that we buy in bulk, and 1/3 cup of cilantro that was beginning to droop. I usually cook a pot of brown rice on Mondays, and use it up by week’s end in endless combinations. We ate the Aloo Gobi over cooked rice, and I cooked  sides of Chana Masala and stir fried kale to go with it, using up some leftover garbanzos and the rest of that droopy cilantro in the process, plus the last of the Farmer’s Market kale too. We ate the leftovers for lunch on Wednesday, but after a busy day of gardening and biking and appointments, we decided to order a pizza for supper-something we do only once or twice a year. This pizza was from Scratch Bakery, a small, wood fired, family owned pizzeria, and Michael was able to walk to the corner to pick it up, saving both gas and delivery fees! We both agreed, it’s probably the best pizza we’ve ever eaten and as you can imagine, there were no leftovers of that either after lunch the following day. Thursday I was able to use up some zucchini and yellow squash, more tomatoes, black beans I had in the freezer, rice and homemade salsa to make killer burritos wrapped up in homemade corn tortillas that Michael has learned to make with our little $10 tortilla press. The last of the cilantro was chopped into the burrito filling. Friday was an Indian dish, called Harira that used the last of the celery and carrots in the frig, as well as lentils, spices, fresh hot chiles that came in the pizza box and yep, rice. Michael made fresh chapatis to go with it and we were in heaven. Saturday we ate our main meal at a wedding reception we attended and Sunday I put the leftover lentils that I’d cooked on Friday into the slow cooker for a meal of ‘Sloppy Lentils’ which we ate with Oven Baked Fries. We ate the leftovers for lunch today and we’re back to Monday! The dog is a little thinner I think, which is a good thing, and my refrigerator doesn’t have any questionable food in it. My compost bucket didn’t get emptied as often this past week either I noticed. Just some cabbage, apple and pineapple cores, some tea leaves and tomato tops went into it last week, for the most part.

So, with a little more awareness on my part, some advance planning and a willing spirit, we ate healthy, delicious meals all week and didn’t have any waste. Can we pull that off forever? Maybe so. The self-challenge makes it fun, a game almost, although I’m fully aware that not having enough to eat is no game at all for many people. We made sure to make JUST ENOUGH chapatis, and JUST ENOUGH corn tortillas, with one extra for the damn dog.

I was going to end this ‘no food waste’ litany here, but last night I ground some corn in my mill for my friend, and in return, she gifted me with a pint of her home-canned salsa verde that I’ll use to make tempeh/black bean enchiladas with tomorrow, and this morning I was the lucky recipient of a quart of homemade vegan kaboucha squash soup that another  friend brought to us when she stopped for a cup of tea! We ate the soup for lunch today with those leftover Sloppy Joes Lentils, and we felt positively rich!

As we head into fall and winter, I’d like to encourage you to turn to soups, international foods, meatless meals and seasonal foods to round out your family’s meals. Food prices are predicted to have sharp increases this winter due to this summer’s wide-spread droughts that affected so much of the soybean and corn crops, which are the mainstay of livestock diets and many other foods. By not wasting a single thing, you should be able to save yourself enough to offset those increases. Let me know what you’re doing to decrease food wastes at your house. Leave it in the comments section below.


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