Stop wasting food!

In the 70’s when I was a kid, I used to think my grandmothers were crazy. After raising large families during the Great Depression, these women were living embodiments of the ‘waste not, want not’ axiom. From washing out milk bags to use as wrappers for leftovers to saving every bone and bit of meat to make soup broth, they were experts at avoiding waste of all kinds. We loved to eat the homemade food they created but we also made fun of their frugal habits.

Now 30 years later, the planet finds itself in a shameful place that we may have been able to avoid if we had listened to these wise women. While riots and strife are common in countries where food is scarce, Westerners are wasting more food (and money as a result of their waste) than ever before.

It’s easy to say ‘not me’ when you read articles like this one in the New York Times. But we have to face the truth when stats from our own hometown hit the press. This article in the Toronto Star asserts that:

• Toronto households waste 210 million kilograms of food each year.
• One-quarter to one-third of the food we waste is unopened or whole or untouched.
• Single-family households each produce about 275 kilograms of food waste each year.
• Food waste is one of the main sources of greenhouse gases, particularly methane, which is more dangerous to the environment and traps more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.
• 38 per cent of Canada’s methane emissions come from landfills.

Reading these facts encouraged me to examine my own food waste habits. The results were sobering. I have to admit that I often buy more produce than I need and end up with slimy herbs and blackened lettuce to throw out at the end of the week. Likewise, I occasionally buy meat that I intend to cook but don’t use because our dinner plans change or we choose to eat something different. I also routinely throw out half of each loaf of sliced bread I buy for making school lunches. When you only have one child to make a lunch for, it’s difficult to use a loaf before it stales.

Although I made fun of freegans on this blog only a few weeks ago, I do give them credit for trying to be part of the solution. I just hope that we can find ways to avoid the problems outlined in the articles above so that such extreme solutions don’t have to be explored.

To that end I’m going to try to be a better earthling by separating my loaves of sliced bread and freezing what won’t be used within a day or two. By doing this I should be able to divide my sliced bread expenditures by at least half, saving about $75 a year and reducing the amount I put in the green bin by approximately 18 pounds (8 kg) a year.

I’ve sent the $75 I plan to save to the World Food Programme’s Silent Tsunami Fund which hopes to ‘reach the millions of people who, six months ago, were not even considered ‘hungry’ but, today, are fast becoming the new face of hunger.’

What do you waste that could be saved or diverted to another use?

15 Responses to Stop wasting food!

  1. I’m a big believer in planning—not just the big meals—but all meals. I’ve been doing it so long that it’s mostly done in my head these days. I only buy enough for each meal. I generally buy in bulk, not from cans, bottles, or bags. This way I decide the quantity. (The exception is non-perishable items such as oil, vinegar, etc.) This also means little or no leftovers after each meal. My only waste is generally packaging—which I try to minimize—and peelings.

  2. Kitt says:

    Barbara at Tigers & Strawberries has some good posts on reducing kitchen waste:

    http://www.tigersandstrawberries.com/category/food-preservation/

    She’s focused on commercial kitchens, but many of her ideas apply to the home as well.

  3. danamccauley says:

    Great info in both comments – thanks for sharing!

  4. Cheryl says:

    It’s funny, my solution has actually been to buy MORE produce. I find when I have a lot, I tend to find creative ways to use it. I used to buy a lot of protein (chicken breasts, ground meat) and store it in the freezer, but it would either get lost back there or I’d avoid it cause I’d be too impatient to wait for it to defrost. So now I just buy the protein I need for 1-2 days at a time.

    And I’m a big fan of freezing sandwich bread, too.

  5. Luke says:

    Do you have any tips on reducing food waste with a toddler in the house? It’s driving me crazy!

  6. Kathryn says:

    As a single person, it is extremely difficult not to waste food. For example, if I could buy herbs by the pound, instead of pre-packaged, perhaps they would not go slimy. While my Mother was alive, we would share our produce, which was a great success. Perhaps the grocery stores and markets could stop the pre-packaging.

    I make full use of the freezer and seldom through out meat or sauces. I freeze the remainder of meals which also makes for a less wasteful kitchen.

    Bread is a problem when it comes to freezing. Unless you use quite soon after freezing, it dries out too much. My Mother, the depression baby, re-used everything that she possibly could — paper bags, milk bags, aluminium foil, bits of string … everything. (I always considered her the original environmentalist.) The bread from the freezer that was too dry would be fed to the birds.

  7. Dana, I applaud the effort to avoid wasting food. It’s a subject near and dear to my heart. I find that changing plans often thwart the meal schedule I’ve set. That’s why I now plan for a free night, knowing that, inevitably, something will come up. Also, scheduling a leftover night can’t hurt!

    Kathryn, it’s a real shame how some stores lead people to waste through packaging. I can’t stand the pre-packaged produce just for that reason. I’d ask the store’s produce manager if he or she could make a change. If bread from the freezer seems too dry, you could turn it into croutons, bread pudding, panzanella or breadcrumbs for baking.

  8. danamccauley says:

    Hey Jonathon, thanks for stopping by to share your insights.

    Luke, I found putting little bits of snacking food in tupperware containers so that my toddler only had so much to play with was helpful to reduce waste. The ultimate solution is to have a dog that trawls the area under the high chair and eats up all the stuff that falls.

  9. A good trick with leftover bread is to process it on the Steel Blade of your processor to make soft bread crumbs. Spread them out on a baking sheet and place in a 350 oven to dry out for 15 minutes or so. White or French bread turns out like panko bread crumbs.

    Soft bread crumbs can be frozen and added to meat loaves, burgers, salmon patties, etc. Use them as toppings for casseroles.

    Transform leftover bread into French Toast. Or place sliced cheese (and some sliced tomatoes) between 2 slices, dip in beaten egg and make French Toast cheese sandwiches. Kids love these.

    Bread pudding and cheese strata are other faves. Add some flaked tuna or salmon. I like to add lightly steamed broccoli or green peas or whatever veggies are left over from dinner to boost veggie intake.

    Bread-y or not – here comes dinner!

    Norene Gilletz, cookbook author, food consultant
    http://www.gourmania.com

  10. danamccauley says:

    Thanks Norene. My problem is that we just don’t eat that much bread. And how many bread crumbs can a girl use?

  11. Mom Quixote says:

    I’m going to give scheduling a week’s meals a serious effort. The worst is when we buy produce and it goes bad. I really like Jonathan Bloom’s idea of keeping one night open, just in case!

  12. danamccauley says:

    I might need to keep two open this time of year. When it’s this hectic, life has a life of its own. I really find June almost as hectic as December!

  13. thinkerstank says:

    Food wastage:
    http://www.wrap. org.uk/retail/ food_waste/ index.html

    See the above website about concern for food wastage. There seems to be a newly felt need for saving food and more so to not to throw food in to dust bins. The phenomenon is observed in all countries-rich or poor. Even Gordon Brown frowns at the throwing food in to the bin.
    When we were children we were often told by our mothers and grandmothers to not to spill even a single grain of rice out of the plate, let alone wasting and throwing the leftovers. Eating, for my Grandmother used to be a ritual as sacred as worship. She used to eat in a nice brass plate which she used to clean it herself even at the age of eighty. A tripod mini-table called ‘ThEvatige’ used be the pedestal on which the plate used to be kept. She used to keep the atmosphere very calm and hospitable for every one around her by her narrations of interesting anecdotes or short stories. After finishing eating she used to pick up each and every grain of rice which might have been spilled by chance and keep it back in the plate. Wash her hand and then rinse the plate with a little water and gulp down the whole content of the plate. She used to say ‘shivaayanamaha’ before starting and at the end of the ritual. That means saluting the God for having given the food for the day. Then go to the wash basin along with the plate and the tumbler and clean the hands and the vessels and keep them for drying. Then she used to say that the food was very nice. The food need not have been that good for her to say words of appreciation. But she always make it a point to utter those words. For her every meal was a festive food and every meal time was an ‘Uthsav’ ( a festival ) and an occasion to celebrate.
    There are many anecdotes like this regarding reverence for food.
    If only we had stuck to the good old habits of respecting the Gods gift-food, we probably would not have reached this pitiable situation. We are paying for headlongness!

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