Globally, we trash approximately 1.3 billion tons of food per year- that’s about a third of the food we grow. Sickening isn’t it? Especially when you consider the privilege of that. Many people worldwide do not have enough food to eat to be nourished, yet we continue to waste food like it’s nothing. Growing food takes resources, labor, water, time, and land. It’s easier to be disconnected from food when we are disconnected from the growing process. Food waste was non existent in my grandparents household. My grandfather came to the US as a poor immigrant from a family of 12 where a scrap of food could be turned into a meal. Nothing was wasted, especially not food, which was sacred, something to be honored and grateful that you had any at all. He worked as a field laborer for a while- hard, long labor for very little pay. Realizing the story behind all the work that goes into food makes you respect and cherish it even more. When you know what it’s like to work a backbreaking day under the hot sun picking strawberries or weeding lettuce, you’re unlikely to let even a morsel go to waste.
There’s lots of reasons why food shouldn’t be wasted, but the main two are:
If we waste less food, we can feed more people, with less people going hungry or malnourished.
Food waste inside landfills creates methane gas emissions, contributing to climate change.
In California, food waste is the single most prevalent thing in our landfills. We can do better. Here’s some ways you can stop wasting food:
i. buy less.
Buy only what you need and will realistically eat. Shopping smaller amounts more often can help with this. It can take a little while to figure out the right amount of food for your household, but you can start by paying more attention to the amounts of items you typically go through in a week and adjusting the quantity of what you buy accordingly.
ii. make a meal plan.
Making a plan of what you’ll eat this week can be helpful so that you only buy what you need. It can also encourage you to cook more and save money. If you don’t like planning ahead (me!), having a rough idea in place can work just as well.
iii. utilize your scraps.
Use more of your fruits and vegetables- most of the time peels and stalks taste delicious and can be left on. For example, cilantro stalks taste just as good as the leaves if chopped finely. Winter squash skins such as kabocha, red kuri, and delicata are delicious and tender. Many nutrients are wasted by peeling since they’re concentrated by the skin (where the sunlight hits!) so leaving them on is also a health bonus. Leafy green carrot tops make and excellent pesto. Odds and ends of onions, celery, carrot, thyme/rosemary stems, tough leek tops, tomato cores, mushroom stems, ginger peels, potato trimmings and many other scraps make an excellent vegetable broth (see recipe at the end). Apple cores and peels can be used to make scrap vinegar. Citrus peels can be saved (in the freezer) to infuse into vinegar for cleaning purposes (recipe in the “CLEANING” module). If you eat cheese or meat you can save the parmesan rinds and the bones to use for stock as well.
iv. find a way to return remaining food scraps back to the earth.
Composting is an essential way to close the loop on food waste. Food scraps that cannot be eaten or used again can be effectively recycled by nature by composting them, rotting and releasing their nutrients back into the earth, paving the way for fresh life to come through. There’s two ways you can accomplish this:
find a drop off location for your compostable materials.
start composting at home.
I recommend starting by consulting your city website or calling them and asking how you can compost in your area. It varies by area, but they're probably the most knowledgable about local amenities. Some towns allow you to put food scraps into your green bins. Some have specific compost pickup. Some offer free classes on how to compost at home. If you don’t have luck here, try asking around at the farmers market, local nurseries/gardening stores, farms, health food stores, community gardens. Still no luck? Ask neighbors, post a wanted ad on Craiglist, Freecycle, or local gardening/Buy Nothing groups asking if there’s anyone that already composts that’s willing to accept your scraps regularly. Simply store scraps in a large paper bag or bowl in the freezer for a no mess, no smell way to save them until you have enough to warrant a trip to the drop off spot.
If you prefer to and/or if you have no luck with finding a drop off location, you can compost at home. To do so, you’ll need to figure out the best method for your living situation. Again, reach out to those in your community, especially nurseries, Master gardeners groups and the like for tutoring + advice here. People that garden love composting and love to help you do it too! If you live in an apartment, try vermicomposting (earthworms!), Bokashi, or if you have a balcony, you can keep a small tumbling style compost. If you have a yard, there’s a lot of different methods- a pile type method, tumbler compost, burying style, and more. Research and find the method that seems most doable for you. Composting seems scary and tricky if you’ve never tried before, but remember it’s literally the most natural thing in the world- its what would already happen anyways if we didn’t put things in the landfill.
v. learn to store food properly.
If you often throw food away because its wilted or rotted, you may need to shift your fridge storage habits in order for it to last longer- or it could be a case of “buy less”. Also, following the principles of storing older food at the front of the refrigerator shelf or having a designated spot for older food/leftovers can be very helpful so that it catches your attention and reminds you to eat it.
vi. buy food that’s discounted in stores.
Often, in grocery stores and in bakeries, there’s a discount section where food that’s close to its expiry is offered at a discount, or, in the case of bakeries, “day olds”. I think it’s important to buy food like this even if it’s in unrecyclable plastic, for what’s worse: to waste the food AND the plastic, causing landfill emissions in the process? Or, for the food to be eaten and the plastic thrown away? I say the latter.
Answer these questions in your journal.
i. how often do you waste food? what is the most common reason food is wasted in your household? For example, overbuying, improper storage, not eating leftovers, forgetting about things…
ii. how can you shift your habits to address this issue and cut your food waste? Create a mini action plan for yourself.
iii. what do you do with your food scraps? Are there ways you could eat or use more of your peels and other bits?
iv. do you compost? If not, work to find either a way to compost or a location to drop off your food scraps. Create a mini action plan for yourself.
This week, and beyond:
i. begin to implement the changes you decided on whilst journaling. Remember to go at your pace.
ii. educate yourself with some of the resources below to motivate and inspire you to work to reduce your food waste.
iii. if you are able, find out how you can help combat food insecurity in your community. Check out local food banks, sign up to help harvest/glean neighbors unwanted fruit to donate, or donate as you are able to organizations actively working to restore this human right to food in your community.
iv. start a scrap stash in your freezer in a paper bag or a bowl to make scrap broth with when you accumulate enough. Recipe as follows- feel free to improvise.
scrap broth recipe
1 tbsp oil
1 whole onion, halved, skin left on
1 whole carrot, halved lengthwise, skin left on
4 whole garlic cloves, smashed, skin left on
assorted vegetable scraps, enough to fill half your pot
enough water to cover
fresh whole peppercorns, to taste
salt to taste
optional add ins:
strip of kombu (seaweed)
fresh herbs like rosemary, thyme, bay leaf, strip of orange zest, etc.
spices like turmeric, ginger, coriander seeds, fennel seeds etc.
after it’s strained:
splash apple cider vinegar
miso, if desired
Heat the oil in a large stockpot. Place the onion and carrot cut side down on the bottom of the pot and cook over medium high heat, without disturbing, for a few minutes, until bottoms of vegetables are browned and caramelized (this builds flavor). Throw in the garlic pieces and cook another minute. Add in the scraps and pour in enough water to cover them. Add in the salt and peppercorns to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, and cook until vegetables are very soft and dull in color and liquid is rich and dark, about 40 minutes-1 hour. This can also be done in a crockpot or Instant Pot, alternatively. Strain broth through a fine strainer and compost vegetable scraps. Add in the apple cider vinegar and whisk through the miso, if using. Taste broth and adjust salt to taste. Ladle into jars and let fully cool before refrigerating up to a week or freezing up to 6 months.
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