Food waste makes me sad and in certain cases invoke a sense of disgust. Just to be clear, I am not talking about the inevitable waste from production, transport and processing either.
Just take a casual trip down to the nearest restaurant and simply observe the tables around you. Food waste galore; plates of leftovers, left behind for the waiters to clear…
And this is not hardly just an American problem. In Chinese culture, food is a measure of hospitality. It is also a measure of one’s wealth. It is considered rude to not offer a guest abundant food, which inevitably leads to waste. Packing extras to go may be frowned upon in some places in Asia. It is a mark of being “stingy” and many people will prefer to not be remembered as such. Buffets? Now that’s gluttony at its best.
These are the obvious wastes. Behind closed doors, at home or in the restaurant kitchens, there are plenty more.
A certain amount of food waste cannot be avoided. There are always in-edibles such as bones, fruit peels and other bits and pieces of unwanted organic matter. I will go with “gut feeling” to decide how much actual food is wasted. “Weight” depends heavily on what’s for dinner. For example, buy a crab and you’ll get 1lb of shell as waste.
So what can we do about it?
My mantra here is “Take what you need and finish what you take.” My kids can probably tell you how much I enforce that rule, both outside and in the home. In applying this mantra…
- For fresh food, buy what can be finished in the time before the next supermarket visit. At the end of this period, the fridge should be mostly empty. For newbies, it takes a bit of practice to estimate the amount of food needed. Wholesale stores such as Costco tend to sell you a lot more than you need, which will go bad, unless you have a large family to finish them all.
- Frozen and dry foods can be stored for much longer, but always consume the oldest first.
- Avoid buying things you probably won’t eat much of.
- Practice “Whole Food” cooking where possible. Using a chicken as an example...don’t discard the chicken skin for starters. Chicken bones can be shattered and boiled to make a iron-rich chicken soup.
- Avoid recipes that require you to discard a part of an ingredient. Alternatively, pair them with recipes that utilizes the unwanted part. E.g. Egg Yolk/White.
- Avoid diets that condemn parts of a whole food. Either eat it in its entirety or don’t eat it at all. E.g. Egg Yolk is high in cholesterol, so should be removed. (That is a myth actually. The FDA had retracted that one egg/day recommendation.)
- For certain vegetables like lettuce and cabbage, using the outer leaves can extend the lifetime in the fridge, if unable to consume it all at once. Let’s say I have 3 different kinds of lettuce and cabbages. If I can only eat 1 ball before the others would get bad, take the outermost 1/3 of each ball each session and all 3 balls should last 3x as long, give or take. The timer somewhat resets every time a new layer is exposed.
- If unable to consume fruits and vegetables before they go bad…turn them into smoothies before they do.
- Avoid juicing in favor of smoothies. The fiber is good for you anyway.
- Keep ingredients in their natural packaging until you need them. Pre-peeled? Convenient but also means it spoils faster.
- Avoid buffets. Overeating is a waste of food and bad for your health.
- Order just enough.
- Pack the extras. Don’t be shy.
- Cook more, eat out less. The fancier (and more expensive) the restaurant, chances are that they waste more ingredients trying to make your food look good.
Waste less, save more and earn some food karma in the process. Then all is good.