Leftovers Are for Lovers: Save Your Food, Save the Planet

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Just today, I had to throw out remnants of an old salad, one-third of an onion that was left for too long in the cooking pan, and a small Tupperware’s worth of an eggplant pasta sauce I never got to finish. Last week, among other things, was one whole avocado that became too overripe from negligence. I am definitely not proud of this.

The amount of food that is wasted in the country is staggering and shameful. Over forty percent of food produced in America goes to waste. And an article in the Los Angeles Times reported that 1.5 million tons of food are dumped every year in California alone by Californian caterers, hotels, and restaurants. We are talking perfectly good food from banquet halls that simply go straight to the dumpster. The number does not even cover food that is wasted from school cafeterias, individual households, public institutions and other sectors in the state.

More than a matter of principle, wasting food is bad news for the planet. The energy that goes into producing excess food means more water is wasted, more carbon emissions are created, and more trash goes out into the world to farm, package, and ship food that is not being eaten.

Starting today, I want to make a personal commitment to throw away less food. Here are some general tips to cut back on food waste in your home: 

1. Do a weekly check on the contents of your fridge. When you forget what’s in the fridge, the leftovers from last night’s party or the fresh squash from last weekend’s farmers market trip get forgotten and as time passes, inedible. By keeping tabs on your fridge stuff, you can move things nearing the expiration date towards the front and make a mental note to use up certain ingredients for your next home-cooked meal.

2. Know your eating and shopping habits. Do you keep buying bags of carrots that go stale and rubbery from neglect? Do you tell yourself you’ll whip up an amazing gourmet meal with those Farmer’s Market artichokes and asparagus but keep getting lazy? If you know what grocery shopping mistakes you keep repeating that results in food waste, you can empower yourself with the self-awareness to improve your habits.

3. Scour the internet for yummy leftover recipe ideas. What to do with that pot of old rice, stale bread, spaghetti leftovers? Thanks to the internet, you can look up many creative solutions to turn your lousy leftovers into a kick-ass home-cooked meal instead of landfill fodder. (I love turning old bread into homemade croutons. Simple and economical.) 

4. Take advantage of your freezer. I still have leftover curry chilling in my freezer from a gathering I had a month ago. Knowing my own tendency to waste fresh vegetables, I also started buying many frozen veggies in bags so I don’t have to pressure myself to use up my vegetables before they go bad.

5. Know how much is too much when you are preparing food at home. This can be tricky especially if you are living alone. Can you finish a whole pot of spaghetti if you are living alone? Can you come up with enough creative recipe ideas to finish a whole pot of rice or a whole loaf of bread before they go bad? (It helps for me that I have a boyfriend who helps me eat the food in my apartment.) 

6. Plan meals in advance. When you know what you are cooking for the next few days, you are more likely to strategize mindfully on using up food that is about to expire or is already available in your kitchen instead of impulse-buying more grocery items that might go to waste. Even if you only plan up to one day in advance, a little planning goes a long way.

7. If you must throw away your food, compost! Rather than going to the landfill, your waste will at least help nourish your garden that will hopefully produce local fruits and vegetables in your own backyard or windowsill. To learn more about composting, check out this blog post.

Originally published on Intent

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