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No more liquid lettuce!

Call it a 'pantry challenge' if you like. Blog about it if you must. Just quit wasting food.

By Donna_Freedman Dec 17, 2010 9:00AM

Lunchtime at my friend's house in Alaska. Tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich, maybe? Or tuna salad with pickles?

But wait. Half a loaf of Italian bread sat on the counter, getting staler by the minute. The milk in the fridge was two days past its sell-by date. Although I'd bought eggs 10 days previously, I still hadn't eaten any. In the back of the fridge was a wizened apple that had probably been there since my visit last summer.

I heard the voice of my mother chiding me: You're not going to let any of that go to waste, are you?

No, I wasn't. A scrambled egg sandwich, maybe? Or what about French toast? A memory rose of the birthday freebie I had gotten from IHOP, which included "warm fruit compote."

So I peeled and sliced the apple and set it to simmer with a little water, sugar and cinnamon. I cracked a couple of eggs, stirred in some milk (once it passed the sniff test) and dunked slices of bread that were only slightly softer than the countertop on which they rested.

My lunch was French toast with the spicy, syrupy "compote" (aka "chunky applesauce"). Dessert was a small dish of grapes, which were also a bit old but still tasty. Enough bread and milk was left to make French toast the next day, too.

Straight into the garbage

There's way too much food waste in this country. According to Stanford archeologist William Rathje, "a huge disconnect" exists between our actions and our perceptions.

"People don't pay attention to their food waste because it goes straight into the garbage or disposal. It's not like newspapers that stack up in the garage," he told Jonathan Bloom, author of "American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It)."
According to Bloom, who blogs at Wasted Food, more than 40% of the food we produce for consumption goes to waste. That adds up to more than $100 billion worth a year.

Sometimes the waste is inadvertent. A bag of romaine gets pushed behind a bowl of chili. By the time the lettuce is finally discovered, it's liquid.

Picky palates

Or take those grapes: I bought 4 or 5 pounds for a potluck, but very few got eaten. It took me a long time to finish them up, but I was determined not to let them go bad.

Understand: I'm not suggesting people eat green meat or moldy spuds. But I think we're too quick to toss food that's still perfectly edible.

As I noted in this post at Surviving and Thriving, a lot of U.S. citizens have the luxury of picky palates. Nothing looks good, they sigh. Never mind that there's pasta and sauce in the cupboard, stir-fry veggies in the freezer and leftover meatloaf in the fridge.

So they order in or they go out to eat, maybe a couple of days in a row. Suddenly, the meatloaf is "old" and somehow dangerous. Into the disposal it goes.

Cleaning out the pantry

Earlier this year some bloggers participated in a "Pantry Challenge," a monthlong vow to eat mostly the foods on hand and buy supplementary items only when absolutely necessary.

Those who practice "stealth stock-up" had a lot to draw upon. The rest got creative. In fact, blogger Jessica from Life As Mom says the challenge stimulated her "cooking mojo."

"After months of making the same old, same old, the pantry challenge renewed my sense of adventure in the kitchen," she wrote.

Christina, from Northern Cheapskate, noted several positive impacts. The challenge kept her from eating out as much, which is probably why she lost 5½ pounds that month.

"I knew all those (restaurant) meals were unhealthy for us," she admitted, but the weight loss was a clear reminder of the health benefits of home cooking.

On a related note, the Pantry Challenge made Christina think about healthy eating and frugality in a different way. "(It) showed me that I am capable of making minor changes in my life that will have a major impact on my family’s health and wealth."

The weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day are notorious for heavy meals and rich holiday sweets. A lot of mystery leftovers get pitched. Here are a few suggestions for salvaging them:
  • Use a three-ingredient search engine to find new recipes for your leftovers.
  • Make a stir-fry. It's one way to use up the remains of the celery.
  • Freeze meats and side dishes in small containers. They'll become fast suppers or brown-bag lunches in January.
  • Cut leftover turkey into chunks and freeze it to make chili. Cube and freeze leftover ham to flavor pots of beans in the coming months; freeze the ham bone for soup.
  • Make "garbage soup": Simmer leftover veggies and starches with a couple of cans of stock (extra credit if you made your own broth from the turkey carcass), noodles or rice, some spices and maybe a can of tomatoes.
Incidentally, I know that sometimes things really don't "look good." Eat them anyway. If you have to, channel your own mom: People are starving in (whatever country) and you're turning up your nose at perfectly good food?

She's right.
1Comment
Dec 30, 2010 12:57PM
avatar

Donna,

 

Loved this article.  When one lives alone, it becomes really difficult to eat a whole carton of eggs or all of the grapes or drink a whole quart of milk before they go bad.  I did, however, invest in Green Bowls which are absolutely amazing for keeping fruits and veggies fresh for weeks!  I pledge in 2011 not to waste so much food.  I really do feel guilty when I throw something out knowing that there are many people in my own community who would have given anything to have enjoyed those eggs or milk.

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