The Zero Waste movement has been gaining in popularity and momentum lately. I, for one, am grateful for it. If you aren’t already familiar, Zero Waste is an offshoot of the environmental movement which encourages people to only consume what they can use, to fully use what they consume, and to avoid plastic and other non-biodegradable materials as much as possible.
Modern civilization, as most of us know it, produces a lot of waste. I am an American, and Americans are definitely leading contributors to this problem, but it’s happening all over the world. In fact, I tend to see it most in second and third world locales where Westerners have infringed just enough to totally f*ck up the local culture with our ‘convenience’ goods and processed foods and excessive plastic packaging, but not enough to help implement recycling programs or composting schemes or other beneficial imports. And since it can be overwhelmingly difficult to practice a strict zero-waste lifestyle in a place where you can’t safely drink the water and must rely on water bottled in plastic, and where there is no such thing as a recycling program anywhere in the place, I feel it is especially important to practice vigilance in the areas where I can be as efficient in my use of goods and foods as possible.
One way I can do this is in the kitchen. Food waste happens. It’s true. But there are practices for minimizing the waste, and using as much of your foodstuffs in as many ways as possible. Since everyone eats, this is a way that everyone can participate in the health of our planet. Even small contributions make large, collective shifts. So, I’m sharing with you my top tips for reducing food waste. Go ahead … eat it up! (I know … I’m so punny!)
5 WAYS TO REDUCE YOUR FOOD WASTE:
Compost! Even if there’s not a formal composting situation where you are, you can still compost your food. In more affluent areas, there’s often a health food store, restaurant, or community garden that will accept your compost. In rural areas, you might seek out farmers or larger-scale gardeners who can put your leftover food scraps to good use creating healthy soil for new food. If you’re in a place where the local culture has no idea what composting is, or there are no outside resources for alleviating your food scraps, you can create your own composting system in your home. Even here in the Thai islands, where I’m renting a home with neither grass nor garden, I can find a way to compost my scraps. You can toss them in an inconspicuous part of your yard, or build a little wooden compost ‘pen’ out of pallets, or do what I do, and toss your scraps into the middle of a clump of nearby banana trees. (Any clump of trees will work, really, but bananas really like to be fed regularly.) It’s helpful to have some ‘brown matter’ to cover your compost, such as fallen leaves, newspapers, or mulch, but it’s not necessary. It just helps the process along and keeps the fruit fly population at a minimum. Giving leftover food to the earth again helps to complete the cycle that Nature set up in the first place. It’s the original recycling program.
Simplify your grocery shopping. Thanks to years of ‘life propaganda’, I used to think I was supposed to buy my groceries on a weekly or biweekly basis. This meant I was trying to plan meals for the next 7-14 days and then buy all the food needed to make those meals, and hope that food would stay fresh until I needed it. But I have now come to understand that that thinking is erroneous … for me, anyway. I now prefer to walk to the market to get the food I need for the day, or even the meal at hand. This allows me to get just the things I need to make the meal I want to make in that moment. The ingredients are fresher, and I don’t end up with a refrigerator full of food that has spoilt before I got around to eating it. It helps that I live in areas where fresh food markets are available nearby round the clock. But, even before I became the vagabond I am now, I would head over to my local grocery store almost daily to make my food purchases in smaller quantities, getting just enough to meet my needs and, thus, reducing the likelihood of waste. This way of shopping for food means I am not only less likely to waste uneaten food, but I also am not committed to eating a meal that I thought I wanted a week or two ago, but have no desire for today. I can eat what I want, in the freshest way possible. Since I’m only shopping for a meal or a day’s worth of meals, I am less tempted to make impulse purchases. And because I’m buying in small quantities, and not wasting anything I don’t actually need, I save money on my food budget, and avoid the excessive paper and plastic of family-sized packaging. It just makes more sense this way, and once I got adjusted to this style of mindful shopping, I found it to be much more convenient and fulfilling.
Use your food scraps before you compost them … then use them again. There are many ways that food can be used in multiple applications in the kitchen. For example, most vegetables that grow in the ground will have leafy shoots that grow above ground. Purchasing root vegetables that still have these shoots in tact will reduce waste on the suppliers’ end. And those leafy bits have great nutritional value. You can use them in soups, salads, stocks, stews, smoothies, breads, casseroles, and anywhere else you’d like to get a little nutrient boost. All other vegetable scraps that don’t get used, like the end bits or some of the more wilty or yellowed parts can be tossed in a produce bag and kept in your fridge until you have enough to make a beautiful nutrient-dense vegetable stock. You can use the same scraps in a couple batches before relegating them to the compost pile. Some food ‘scraps’ can actually be used to regenerate new food. Pineapple tops, garlic, potatoes, onions, and other fruits and vegetables can be replanted and regrown with little effort and space required. Now that is Zero Waste in action!
Adopt a plant-based diet. Since humans are not biologically designed like carnivores, eating a diet with animal products can become seriously wasteful. Those humans who choose to eat animal products generally don’t eat all parts of those animals, which means that the remaining, less desirable bits get wasted (or, worse, used in ethically questionable ways … but that’s another post). There are many detrimental environmental consequences to eating an animal-based diet, but those are outside the scope of this particular post. If you would like to learn more, please feel encouraged to do your own research, and to watch the documentary, Cowspiracy.
Get creative with your culinary exploits. When you find yourself with small bits of random edible foods leftover at the end of your week, make it a challenge to concoct a recipe that will use all of those leftover ingredients in a new and inventive way. It might not always seem an easy task, but it’s amazing how many delicious meals I’ve created from ingredients that I never considered using together before. Who knows … you may even create a new signature dish!
So, there you have it … my top 5 tips for reducing food waste. I hope you will find inspiration in this post to start implementing some of these practices in your own life if you aren’t doing them already. As I mentioned above, every change toward the good is a change in the right direction, no matter how small it may seem.