Submitted Date 10/16/2019

I'm guilty. I admit it. I spent a lot of time trying my best to switch over to a zero waste/low waste lifestyle. I have endlessly researched green beauty brands and memorized ingredients to avoid. I've switched from plastic to reusable bags and collected a museum worthy amount of interesting and weirdly shaped jars…but I noticed I fall incredibly short with one important thing: reducing food waste. And wow, it makes me feel so guilty each time.

I grew up mostly eating homecooked meals because my mom was a huge cook. She would make her own broths and sauces and endless interesting recipes, but, her being a fantastic chef (and the only one in the house), the kitchen was her sacred spot and she never liked anyone else being in it, therefore I never learned a lot about cooking, and quite frankly, at twenty-two years old, I still kind of suck at it. I'm a huge baker. I was super close to throwing away everything I had pursued in college to pursue pastry arts. Baking for me doesn't really produce much food waste. I have a big sweet tooth, pastries usually last a while and can be sealed up and refrigerated easily, and you can always gift most of a big batch of brownies to your friends and neighbors if you ever decide one day to make a batch for a nonexistent party. But cooking? Cooking is a struggle when you accidently make too much and there's no one around to help finish it.

Somehow, someway, I always end up cooking for more people than there are. I'm sure most of us know the struggle of making pasta for one and ending up with way more noodles than anticipated. And sometimes it's a happy mistake where more can be eaten, but sometimes it ends up as waste, and food waste is a pretty big problem, and a waste of money.

One thing that really catapulted me into trying to go zero waste was because I started to notice how much money I was saving refilling my products or avoiding unnecessary packaged items. I realized that I was wasting so much food that I was still wasting a ton of money. 40% of all the food in America is wasted, how upsetting is that?

So here are some things I put together to help monitor and avoid unnecessary waste and guilt, and the first thing starts with monitoring your grocery list. Also do you make a grocery list?

I'm a list fanatic. When I go to the grocery store unprepared with a list when I am in a time crunch, I end up buying things I don't need and forgetting things that I did need = easy waste, simple fix, make a list. Or make a meal plan, if you're a meal prepper. Only buy the ingredients you need and are missing. Keep track of what you use the most in your kitchen. Is there a certain spice you usually put in everything? Any refrigerated items you can't go without? Keep track of the things you throw away and have let sit in the back of the fridge and expire and ask yourself if you really need to buy it again. Easy money saving and food waste solution: buy less food. Or buy less food that is more likely to go bad sooner, and things you don't need right away, like letting the bag of spinach get limp and wet before you can get to it.

More on that, I used to always use spinach or arugula for salads but even a small bag from trader joes always ended up getting wasted because it was just too much spinach for me to use in a short amount of time, however I still needed it for easy make-ahead recipes like salads and such, I didn't want to just stop buying spinach. One easy remedy is to try and buy spinach in the bulk section, I know Whole Foods does this with some greens, but I recently moved away from any nearby Whole Foods (it's been a struggle). But just find more recipes, or things to do with frozen ingredients. I started to freeze the rest of my greens and use them for smoothies. You can blend and freeze basil leaves for later. You can do a lot of different things with ingredients! And there are ways to extend the life of some greens, like storing herbs or green onions in a glass with a bit of water. Do some research before letting items like this go bad.

Something fun to do is learn what to do with scraps, too. When I started being more aware of my food waste, I noticed how it easily adds up with scraps, like throwing away the ends of zucchinis and roots of vegetables or peelings. So. Many. Scraps. Did you know these scraps can make some amazing veggie stocks? You don't even need to commit to making any stock asap, you can put your scraps in a baggy and throw it all in the fridge until you have a nice assortment of vegetable scraps for stock making. There's lots of tutorials and recipes online that I recommend scoping out. And boom, you just saved money on stock. You can do this with the bones from your meats as well. For some veggies, I like to throw some scrap in my smoothies, too, so I would freeze the hard bits of my kale leaves and even pieces of my zucchinis to throw in my smoothies. They're added nutrition that you really can't taste if you're throwing in some yummy ingredients like raspberries and bananas.

Tier 4: mold can be ok. So here we are, we're moving into a territory that most people don't want to deal with. If you're super squeamish, I get your concern with seeing a small spot of mold and throwing the whole thing away, but, believe it or not, depending on the ingredient, you can just cut the mold off and use the rest. Stuff like cheese and even zucchinis are fine. Google is your handy friend here, just simply ask if you can cut the mold off or not on an item. Make sure to cook any ingredients you have cut mold off fully. Just stay away from that rotten milk or moldy chicken.

There's lots of ways to reduce food waste, and lots of ways that enable you to get your moneys worth and not have to spend additional for ingredients that could be made at home using scraps and leftovers. It all starts with becoming aware of what you waste and doing some light research. And hey, maybe in the future you might move on to doing some composting or growing your own garden of herbs and vegetables! And that's another thing I really recommend if this all seems like a drag; research re-growing vegetables. You can save that onion root and grow more, same with the forgotten sprouted potatoes, etc. It's all a learning process and it can be pretty darn fun.


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  • Rick Doble 4 months ago

    "In the United States, food waste is estimated at between 30-40 percent of the food supply. This estimate, based on estimates from USDA's Economic Research Service of 31 percent food loss at the retail and consumer levels, corresponded to approximately 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food in 2010." USDA