So, I read a report this week about America’s food waste issue, and we do have an issue. Our food waste, from farm to fork, has gone up 50% since the 1970’s. More than 20 pounds of food per person, per month, goes uneaten for some reason. Some of that waste happens directly on the farm, where the ugly, but edible, produce can’t be sold to supermarkets, and is discarded. Some of that happens at restaurants and supermarkets, who overbuy or overcook, and due to food safety laws and restrictions, cannot donate this extra food to shelters or soup kitchens. (Check out this video on Perennial Plate, when Daniel and Mirra go dumpster-diving behind a Trader Joe’s with one of their interviewees. Also read Mirra’s blog post about it here.) Supermarkets actually overbuy/overstock produce on purpose, so their produce department looks temptingly abundant to you and me (they can hide the produce that’s going bad under the good stuff).
Some of that waste happens in our homes.
There are countless reasons for this. I’m sure you’re running through your own reasons in your head right now, trying to justify them, because I do the same thing. Now, we’re not perfect, but we’ve gotten really good at not throwing food away around here, and my guilt is assuaged somewhat by my ever-active compost pile in the backyard. Not everyone can have a compost pile though, or even wants to. I get that, too. But the one thing we can all do to reduce food waste in our homes is Eat. The. Leftovers. (Those of you who don’t ever cook enough to end up with leftovers are simply working too hard.)
Leftovers. It’s a word that makes families cringe and whine in protest at mealtime. But my mom used to call me the Leftover Queen, because I could come home unannounced (after I had moved out), open the fridge, and always find something tasty to combine and eat. I won’t tell you the stories about cleaning out our refrigerator as a kid. They’re too grim. But in my kitchen, we don’t do a monthly “clean out the fridge”, because we are constantly cleaning it out. If it’s full of food, I just don’t put more in. We eat from what’s there, creating new combinations from various dinners, that are more interesting than just eating the same casserole or roast for a week.
This week there were some fun leftovers. After we had not-barbequed spare ribs, later I topped one with some salsa verde for lunch:
It gave me the opportunity to try a new chile pepper I picked at the CSA. It’s really hot, a cousin of the habanero. The corn chowder was delicious with some corn salsa on top:
The last little bit of the ten-veg stew was perfect for mixing with some garbanzo beans for a hearty lunch:
I added a drizzle of sriracha and more of that hot chile to perk up the faded flavors of the stew. I had a couple salads this week too, with garbanzo beans and the leftover cucumber salads. Oh, and the Asian-inspired cucumber salad that I thought would go well with noodles? It did:
I have another trick to prevent throwing out leftovers: freeze them for later. If you go to all the trouble to make a large meal, pack it up in small portions and pop it in the freezer for a busy night, a tired night, an uninspired night. Sometimes finding a few ziplock bags that will come together in a dish is all I need to get going in the kitchen. I have a lot of ground beef/black bean filling leftover from the night we had our soft tacos with two salsas, so I am going to get that right into the freezer. It will make a wonderful addition to a soup, I might use some to stuff some poblano peppers I picked up, or another packet of tortillas makes that another taco meal, but later, when everyone won’t whine about it.
I hope I have at least made you curious to try this approach in your kitchen. Pull all your leftovers out of the fridge, set them on the counter, and see what new combinations you can come up with. Add a fresh salad or steamed vegetable, and that’s dinner, but it’s not “the same thing we had last night”. Have fun, and I’ll see you on down the Road.