We waste a staggering amount of food. Take an apple for example. This Atlantic article (with an excellent gif) outlines the food waste issue and how much we waste just with apples: “If each of us eats an apple a day, as we all do, and we are all wasting 30 percent of our apples at $1.30 per pound, that’s about $42 wasted per person per year—which is $13.2 billion annually.” Even with enthusiastic demonstrations, I’ve had trouble convincing others (including my own boyfriend), to adopt this revolutionary method of apple consumption. “Apples are meant to have cores” they say! But the more of our food that we eat, the better. Why waste the energy we used to grow it, just because you ‘know’ how to eat an apple already? Reducing our waste will come when we rethink what parts of our food are waste. Yes, food scraps can (and should) be composted, but going into the compost pile is still skipping food’s true purpose: to provide nourishment. If that doesn’t happen, then the energy used was in vain. The old environmental mantra goes reduce, reuse, and then recycle. We have gotten into the frame of mind that recycling is enough, but it is still the least effective of the options (and that’s why it is last!).
Apples are just one example and there are thousands more. Not all foods have edible peels, but why peel any of the ones that do? Fruit and vegetable peels contain tons of nutrients and fiber that are lost with peeling. Stop peeling your apples, carrots, potatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, zucchini, and summer squash. Just give them a good scrubbing, enjoy, and stop buying expensive multivitamins. Try making some carrot top pesto. Chop your cilantro stems up with the leaves and eat them too (as many other cultures do). Parsley stalks are a little tougher, but can be thrown in a pot with a few potatoes, stems from other greens (like collards and kale), a couple carrots, tops and bottoms of celery hearts, a bay leaf, garlic cloves, and a few peppercorns to make broth. Leftover bones from chicken, turkey, beef, pork, or whatever other meat you consume can become stock as well. Save the fat from cooking chicken or bacon and use that instead of oil for your next saute.
Expiration dates are a truth we accept, like apple cores, that need to be rethought. They are really to keep food manufacturers from being sued. Many, many foods last beyond their declared expiration date. Ignore the date, and use your senses to determine if food has gone bad. Does it smell awful? Have mold that can’t be reasonably scraped off? Floating chunks that should not be there? Fine then, dump it. My mom will forever fondly recall the time I bit into a ball of mozzarella that had gone south (it should NOT squish that way), and besides some slight mental scarring I was just fine. Foods past their prime have other uses as well. Milk gone sour? Use it in place of buttermilk. Food borne illness is still a serious issue, but thorough washing, proper preparation, and preventing cross contamination between raw and cooked food can go a long way to keeping the bad stuff out of your kitchen.
So buy food from someplace you can trust, try not to buy more than you need, and store it properly. Eat as many parts of it as possible. If life gets in the way and you can’t use it in its peak, try to think of a different use. When all else fails, compost. And repeat.
Further reading: Waste: Uncovering the Food Scandal by Tristram Stuart (and his TED talk), Trader Joe’s Ex-President To Turn Expired Food Into Cheap Meals