Updated: May 23
Part four: Using Refirg and to Their Fullest
Here comes the last installment of our exploration on minimizing food waste at home. After looking at countering produce and animal protein waste, we are now on to groceries in general. In that department waste occurs in two areas, stuff going bad before you’ve used it, and packaging waste.
Stuff goes bad because it’s perishable. Hence, you can either buy less, use it up while it’s good, or extend its life. Often, our craving for abundance causes our refrigerators to be so full that we can only see what’s on the front edge of the shelves. Things in the back get forgotten, until lo and behold, we plunge in and find a moldy yogurt container, jam jar, some sour smelling salsa, or some forgotten slimy cold cuts. In the trash it goes and becomes food waste.
Freeze your leftovers, mind your dairy, salsa, and other perishable items in the fridge so you use them up before they grow moldy or become bad. My parents devised a fun way to manage their leftovers years ago. They freeze them in small tubs right away, then, when they don’t feel like cooking, they take all the little tubs out for a “tapas” dinner. Tadaaa, you’ve got an array of little cooked surprise dishes.
Whole grain flours and nuts have oils in them that turn rancid after a few months on the shelf at room temperature. If you buy whole grain flours, nuts and seeds in bulk, freeze what you don’t need in the pantry for immediate use. In Europe we kept our breads in bread boxes or on the counter. The climate is different here. Bread grows moldy fast, and I keep my immediate supply in the fridge, and all other bread frozen. Bread freezes really well.
Be friends with your fridge and explore it often. Come up with a dinner that uses the items that need to be used up. Look into your vegetable compartment often, lest you forget something in the bottom drawer that turns up slimy or yellow. Work your vegetables first before adding grains, pasta or rice to your meal. Most of us don’t need the added calories and carbs from grains and are better off with more vegetables. Work your greens first, then your firm vegetables like broccoli, zucchini, cauliflower, your roots last longest.
Packaging waste is the other related elephant in the room we tend to forget about. The recent food industry’s profit minded tendency, sold as a convenience, to sell us individually packaged portion sizes (tea bags, juice boxes, coffee pods, school snacks, power bars, bottled water, what have you), and even all the canned goods in their smallish cans, create a tremendous amount of trash that can be averted by shifting your shopping strategies and saving you money along the way. When it comes to non-perishables, buying in bulk in general saves you money and the environment the packaging waste.
Instead of canned legumes (often with citric acid for preservation and a harmful BPA lining), buy them dried in bulk for far less money and packaging, soak them overnight, cook them up, and freeze them in portion sizes. Tea bag tea costs the equivalent of about $80-$100/lb. Buy your tea in bulk at around $15-20/lb and save big on all the packaging that goes into tea bags and their cartons. Besides, tea bag tea is often of inferior quality than bulk tea. Same with spices. Your average 1.75oz curry costs just under $4 at the supermarket which comes to over $36/lb! If you like to cook that doesn’t go very far. One pound of bulk curry powder in a bag costs about $10. Buy your spices in bulk, keep a small amount in a jar in the spice drawer, and freeze the rest for freshness. Saved money, saved packaging.
K-cups are profitable for the maker but a complete waste from an environmental perspective, and costly from a consumer perspective. If you must, buy reusable K-cup containers and fill them with your own coffee. Otherwise, buy your coffee in bulk and keep it in the freezer for freshness. Coffee, too, has oils that become rancid after a while. And whatever was wrong with tap water? If you need to, get a water filter for your tap, and consider making your own seltzer at home. And please buy a reusable water bottle for when you leave the house.
As we have seen over the past few segments on produce, animal protein, and now groceries, countering food waste takes a bit of a shift in awareness and habits. When it comes to the careless abundance of food and packaging, what goes up must come down.
We all have to own up to the pressing realities of climate change and our environmental crisis, the harmful realities of industrial farming and meat production, and the detriment to our health of the industrial profit oriented food production. The overall picture may be overwhelming, but we have shown that there is a lot you can do at home. Each one of us has to become a bit more aware and a bit more proactive and responsible. Together we can make a big difference, save money, and save resources.
To find out more about Susanne, please visit her website at www.susannemeyerfitzsimmons.com.