“Leftovers make you feel good twice. First, when you put it away, you feel thrifty and intelligent: ‘I’m saving food!’ Then a month later when blue hair is growing out of the ham, and you throw it away, you feel really intelligent: ‘I’m saving my life!'”
– George Carlin, comedian
I just finished reading the book The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn. Briefly, Kathleen is a former restaurant and food critic who earns a degree at Le Cordon Bleu. One evening, back in the United States, she is grocery shopping and starts following a woman who is filling her cart only with highly processed, packaged foods including roast beef dinners, macaroni and cheese, and just-add-water scalloped potatoes. She finally strikes up a conversation with the women and hears the confession that the woman does not know how to cook, at all. From this, Kathleen gets the idea to open the Kitchen Counter Cooking School: She finds nine women who all confess to not knowing how to cook, and she trains them over the course of several months. Along the way, Kathleen talks about food politics, food waste, processed foods, sustainability, as well as how to wield a knife and other kitchen basics.
The sections on food waste caught my eye as it relates to clutter. Please bear with me as I quote some big sections of the book.
“Even as we bemoan food prices, American consumers are generally unaware that they spend less of their wages on food than any other country in the world; just under 10 percent of their paychecks. Compare that to 1900, when 40 percent of wages went toward food. Around 1960, the first time the amount spent on food was no longer the biggest expenditure, the figure was about 25 percent. The declining cost comes with the rise of the industrialization of farming practices and the shift of everything we eat – from pigs and cows to orange juice – into mass produced merchandise.”
“Perhaps it’s the lack of investment that leads to a cavalier attitude toward food. We may give thanks for the bounty once a year [Thanksgiving in the US], but then as a country we collectively waste about 40 percent of the food produced for consumption the rest of the time. Anthropologist Timothy Jones spent more than a decade studying food waste. His research finds that some crops sit abandoned or unharvested in the fields where they’re grown. Supermarkets or suppliers discard another few percent dismissed as too imperfect for retail. The rest – about 25 to 30 percent – we throw away at home. That food goes into landfills to rot, where it emits clouds of methane, a greenhouse gas more toxic and damaging than carbon monoxide.
” ‘By treating edibles as a disposable commodity, we teach our children not to value food,’ says Jonathan Bloom… He puts the figure on what we waste at more than $100 billion annually. This jived with what I found in the interviews with the volunteers and the kitchen visits [to her student’s homes before the lessons began] and what I observed in my own house and in the homes of friends. A few of the volunteers agreed to keep a journal of what they bought, ate, and threw out for two week. The result? They reported less waste due to the guilt they felt knowing they had to write it down, but even then, an average of 18 percent of their grocery bills went into the trash.
“But why do we waste so much? Both Jones and Bloom offer some interesting insights.
“First people often shop for the life they aspire to, not their real one. [Aspirational clutter!] Everyone knows that they’re supposed to eat fruit and vegetables, so we stock up on perishables. Since most people don’t plan meals for the week, those beets or greens that looked so great at the farmers’ market sit untouched as we end up eating convenience foods. [Impulse purchases!] With proper planning, buying in bulk or loading up on two-for-one deals can be a genuine money saver; without a plan, it’s just a recipe for double or triple the amount of food tossed away.
“Dr. Trubek from the University of Vermont has studied the activities of home cooks for years… ‘Planning menus is the greatest skill that we’ve collectively lost,’ she said. ‘That, and what to do with leftovers.’
Various chefs and food experts offer their ideas on how to eliminate food waste:
- Participate in an “eating down the fridge” challenge where you avoid buying groceries for a week and intentionally eat down your pantry and refrigerator. [Use it up challenge!]
- Put a photo you like at the back of your refrigerator. Your fridge shouldn’t be so full that you can’t see it.
- Use up old products first, which is known as rotation in the restaurant world.
- Buy a realistic amount of produce. In our family, when I buy bananas, I just get four, not an entire bunch. Pears go bad quickly, and I usually buy only two of those – a half for each person.
- Especially in the United States and Europe, you can let the grocery store be your pantry: There will be more bananas pears, cereal, flank steak next time you shop. Just because you can buy something doesn’t mean that you should.
- Don’t be afraid to substitute. If you need a zucchini for a recipe but only have a green pepper, use that instead. No Panko? Use regular bread crumbs as a substitute. [Use it up challenge!]
- Don’t give up too easily on your food. Peel away the dent or the brown spot rather than throwing the whole thing away.
- Bought too much? Try IQF, individually quick frozen. Spread the extra berries or veggies on a baking sheet and freeze them. When frozen, sweep them into a plastic bag. (And don’t forget to use them!)
- Clean our your condiment shelf by taking some similar flavors and combine them into a marinade. There are sites on the web that will help you to know what flavors work well with what if you’re struggling with this idea. Here’s one possible helper.
- Soup is the great user of all-things-leftover.
- Don’t try to reinvent the culinary wheel for every meal. Develop a stable of recipes that you enjoy and know how to make, and lean on those for the majority of your meals.
- Take leftovers to work and pack them in your kid’s lunches.
On a different note, thank you to everyone who searched the Internet for the blog post I was looking for. It was found on Small Notebook, and here it is.
Today’s Mini Mission
Declutter something from your pantry that isn’t healthy for you even though most people stock it. The best way to avoid unhealthy food is to not keep it in your home. ~ Examples:- White sugar, pasta, sweet sauces, white rice, white flours, candy…
Eco Tip for the Day
No need for a tip today as there are plenty in Cindy’s post above.
It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow