Americans throw away nearly 40 percent of the food produced in the United States. Not only is that wasted food not feeding anyone, it also wastes fertile land and creates giant, unwieldy landfills. By putting into practice a few new habits at home, you can do your part to maximize what we have and minimize what ends up in the trash. Not only will you set a good example for our friends, family and neighbors, you save money in the process. Here are some tips for both the kitchen and the garden.
1. Save The Bits And Pieces
“Food scraps,” like parsley or kale stems, the tough outer leaves of leeks and fennel, even apple peels and carrot greens can be gently simmered for an hour or so to produce a savory vegetarian broth. What remains can still be composted. Use the broth to cook risotto, beans, and other grains or sauces. Poultry carcasses and meat bones should also be simmered for meat stock. Both can be frozen, either in quart freezer bags or ice cube trays. Hold on to cheese rinds, as well, to further enrich the winter stews and soups you make with the stocks.
You can also save fat from high quality bacon and from duck. Strain the grease leftover from cooking into a container kept in the fridge. Used sparingly, these fats are full of flavor. Add 1 tablespoonful to cornbread, use for browning potatoes, or substitute part of the butter or oil in any number of your favorite dishes.
2. Harvest Smartly
To extend their season, pick leafy greens, such as chard, lettuce and kale, from the outside, leaving the plants in the ground rather than pulling the whole heads.
3. Grow Perennials
Perennial crops, like rhubarb, many herbs, horseradish, asparagus, sunchokes and blueberries come back every year. By incorporating these crops into your garden, you’ll retain soil, reduce plant waste, and save money and energy by planting once and harvesting for years. The same goes for perennial flowers: Share or spread them by dividing them, rather than buying more.
4. Embrace Imperfection
Don’t toss ugly vegetables, and look to buy them if you aren’t growing your own produce. So much food is wasted due to cosmetic concerns, but with a little paring, a gnarled or twisted carrot or parsnip makes perfect, nutritious soup. Chopped salad makes use of slightly cracked or bruised tomatoes or cucumbers. Just use a sharp, small knife to cut out that bruise, small insect hole or a funny-looking stem.
5. Eat Your Leftovers
One roast chicken dinner yields plenty for chicken tacos (and the carcass for soup) the next day.You can also roast tomorrow night’s beets while the oven is on and reduce energy costs. The batch of greens you sauté can top pizza one night and be part of an Asian stir-fry the next. If the cheddar for your cheeseboard has hardened, grate it now for mac ‘n’ cheese. Equal parts leftover party wine and cider vinegar make a base for salad dressing, and flat, unfinished beers can become a marinade or quick bread.
6. Re-use Planting Containers
If you can’t re-use all your pots and trays, contact your local nursery or a local garden club or school garden, which might be happy to have them. Re-purposed milk or egg cartons reduce the use of plastic pots altogether. Or, begin your seedling in peat pots that can then be re-planted whole to improve the soil by decomposing slowly. If you still get paper newspapers, you can also reduce both weeds and waste by using them as mulch. Most modern newspapers are printed with soy ink.
7. Buy In Bulk
Buy staples, like sugar, pasta and rice, in bulk, and store them properly. You can also buy bulk produce for canning your own fruits and vegetables. In the end, you’ll throw away less packaging and learn to make creative use of your pantry. Likewise, in the garden, buying soil, peat moss or mulch in bulk reduces plastic bags, too.
8. Shop More Frequently
When it comes to perishables like fish, fresh fruit and salad, shop more often than buying supplies in bulk to avoid throwing away spoiled food. Buy only what you need or else risk throwing away the bargains you find. Cook with the freshest, seasonal options; they often reduce the food miles it took to get the ingredients to you.
9. Feed An Animal
Feed your vegetable trimmings and slightly wilted food to your chickens, rabbits or pet turtle—or give to a friend with these animals if you don’t have one of your own.
Consider tossing your fruit and vegetable scraps into a worm bin, where red wigglers will digest and excrete them to make a highly nutritious compost.
11. Countertop Recycling
If composting or vermicomposting isn’t for you, invest in a countertop recycling machine, which will convert loads organic wastes to a few tablespoons of ash in just a few hours. Sprinkle the remains—along with your cooled coffee grounds, for that matter—right into your container plants or raised-bed garden, scratch the surface a bit to incorporate them.
If space is extremely limited where you live, consider allowing a composting service to take care of your food waste for you. Check with your local farmers market to see if there’s a program in your area. Sometimes municipalities run similar programs, as well.