Waste Not

Oscar the Grouch in his trash can

Oscar the Grouch sings a song called “I Love Trash.” I love how Oscar embodies negative emotions and personality traits like grumpiness, irritability, reclusiveness, and tendency toward squalor with such humor and acceptance.

I, however, don’t love trash. Over the last few years I’ve become insane about wasting food, especially meat. You’d think I grew up during the Great Depression. Now there’s a scary statistic that Americans waste 40% of our food, which blows my mind. Slate recently published a top ten ways to reduce waste list, here are what I think are the best of the bunch (slightly condensed).

  1. Create and stick to a shopping list. Plan out your meals for the week (including snacks and side dishes) and then shop for just the ingredients you need–no more, no less. Be honest about your cooking and eating habits, though, or you’ll still wind up with unused ingredients.
  2. Shop a few times a week. If you don’t plan your meals seven days in advance, do as the Europeans do and opt for small, frequent purchases. Check to see what you have at home that’s in danger of going bad, then shop for ingredients so you can make use of those items.
  3. Buy food with cash. It’s hard but it works. “The less we use debit/credit, the more conscious we are of what we spend and so we tend not to grab items that just look good.”
  4. Wash and prep fruit and vegetables right away. This helps combat workweek weariness. Dry everything thoroughly before you put it in the fridge–surface moisture provides a nice environment for decay-causing bacteria and fungi.
  5. Use the freezer wisely. Keep a container in there for chicken carcasses, freezer-burned drumsticks, onion tops, and carrot peelings; when it’s full, simmer all the contents in a pot of water to make stock. Blanch and freeze on-the-verge produce for later use. Roasts vegetables before they go bad and toss them into a freezer bag; the constantly evolving mix can go into lasagna, soup, pizza, or casseroles. Fruit that’s about to go bad can be frozen for smoothies (and banana bread).
  6. Schedule in your leftovers. Eat ‘new’ food on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights, then on Thursday, have ‘smorgasbord’ with the leftovers from those three nights. A popular variation is “back of the fridge night,” when you challenge yourself to prepare a meal out of nothing but end-of-the-shopping-week ingredients. To do this, bone up on “meta recipes”–flexible dishes like quiches, stir-fries, sauces, and stews that can easily accommodate a wide variety of ingredients. Mark Bittman’s Food Matters cookbook is great for just this purpose and allrecipes.com lets you search for dishes that incorporate up to four different ingredients.

Here’s one of mine: At restaurants, I ask for to-go containers when the food arrives so I can pack it up as soon as I’m done. This helps you avoid overeating and it guarantees a good lunch the next day.

I’m sure Oscar would love composting, too, but that’s another blog entry altogether.