What Do You Consider Waste?

When you make your weekly trip to the grocery store and pick out your produce do you look for only the most visually “perfect” items? When you get those items home, do you use everything or discard peels, pits, stalks, and stems?   Have you ever had a stuffed baked apricot?  How about a hearty bowl of homemade chicken noodle soup?  These are all very different items with something largely in common.

Today when visiting my mother we took a walk down the street to her small market to pick up a few produce items for her refrigerator.  When we got home she unloaded her grocery bag and said, “I should trim the broccoli now before I put it away…”  Trim?  I asked her what she was trimming off the broccoli and she said it was most of the stem.

At least once a month I’m called upon to go through a series of boxes of local organic produce that unless I utilize, will go to the compost pile or the dump.  In the last produce run I brought home eight boxes of mixed items; apples, several varieties of squash, citrus, kiwis, onions, and much more.  After sorting through the boxes and separating each variety I had one full box of unusable scraps (i.e. mold/rotten).  I put the scraps in our compost bin, which will turn to usable compost for soil maintenance.  The other seven boxes I divided and made a plan of action for the fast ripening produce.  The seven boxes so far have provided fresh, local, organic produce to five different families that will easily last them a week or more.  This does not include my son who gorged himself on a dozen different apples and citrus while I sorted through the boxes.  I’ve also tested a new marmalade recipe utilizing the whole fruit.  I still have a couple of boxes left and plan to test a natural pectin recipe, candied citrus and homemade stock recipes with the remaining items.

So what do stuffed baked apricots, chicken noodle soup, throwing away broccoli stems or discarding of perfectly fine boxes of fruits and vegetables have to do with each other?  It’s about reducing waste and using everything to its fullest ability.  More importantly it’s about changing the way we view and how much we consume.  I see people every day acting as if there is an abundance of resources available – when in all reality there is not…at least not the way we are consuming today.  If we managed our habits differently and stopped abusing our land & home (planet earth) then there very well may be resources plenty to take care of us all…but only if we change.

The baked stuffed apricots were a staple at my Italian grandmother’s family gatherings, when in season.  Her mother, my Nona Mary, made this dessert as soon as the fruit began to fall from her backyard trees.  Every time she’d bring the dish to the table she’d explain that it would fight cancer and make you live forever!  I’m not sure about the living forever part but having cancer fighting properties has been researched.  The inside of the apricot pit contains high amounts of the vitamin B-17.  She wasted nothing; utilizing the whole fruit…pit, flesh, and skin.  She would halve the apricots, remove the pit, and drizzle the fruit with honey & spice.  She would grind the inside of the apricot pits till she had a pasty consistency.  She would mix the pit paste with a small amount of flour, brown sugar, and butter.  A scoop of this mixture would fill the void in each apricot half.  Another drizzle of honey and in the oven the apricots went for 30 minutes.  Golden, glazed, and super sweet; not one bit of the fruit was wasted.

My Spanish grandmother was always making homemade stock for chicken soup, arroz con pollo, additions to stuffing, and so many more delicious dishes.  When making her stock she’d throw in whole onions, carrots, celery, and a whole chicken.  She’d cook the mixture half way and take out the chicken and bones.  She would continue cooking the remainder of the vegetables and broth till the vegetables had ultimately dissolved creating a thick rich stock.  Not one scrap was wasted.  The chicken had been cooked well enough that every bit fell off the bone.  The scraps would go to the house dog (i.e. cartilage and skin) and the rest would be reserved for the soup, rice, sandwiches, and more.

Now who doesn’t love broccoli.  Those tight green fluffy bunches of goodness.  When most people think of eating broccoli, they look to the more visually appealing part of the plant, which are the florets; obvious based on my own mother’s want to rid her produce of its fibrous stem and thick dark leaves.    If it’s nutritional value that you’re looking for; every part of the plant is equally nutritious.  The dark green leaves of the plant can be cooked like kale, collards, or any other leafy green.  A good rinse and then sauté in a hot pan with fresh chopped garlic and a finishing drizzle of olive oil and fresh grated parmesan cheese.  Clean the outside of the stalks to remove any blemishes and then chop small circles to be added to a stir fry, roasted with other vegetables, or steamed.  The possibilities are endless to use the entire vegetable and not just the florets.  Do a quick internet search on ‘broccoli stems or leaves” and you’ll have plenty of options.

Many of us were not as fortunate as those who grew up on a farm or within an agricultural community, to see how our food is brought to life.  Many of us still do not have a complete grasp of where our food comes from, how it is grown, or even what it looks like while it’s growing.  The typical grocery store chain has us “trained” in how we choose our produce.  The eight boxes I received last week were from various CSAs (community supported agriculture) to remain unnamed.  After sorting through all eight boxes I was left with one unusable box where the produce was beyond recognizable and moldy.  The remaining boxes were, in my eyes, perfectly fine.  If you were to take a closer look you’ll find a random bruise, a nick, or an odd-shaped or colored fruit.  The customers of these programs seem to be complaining because we’ve yet to break away from uniform variety that we’ve become accustomed to.  What grows in nature is not uniform.  Everything is a different shape, size, and color.  From these remaining seven boxes I’ve provided enough produce for five families to enjoy for week or more.  The remaining produce has turned into cleaned & stored squash, jams, sauces, candied fruits, and natural pectin.

The waste I describe is such a small part in the entire ‘wasteful picture’.  There is waste from farms, restaurants, grocery stores, and the consumer.  When products go unsold at grocery stores or restaurants they are thrown away, instead of donated.  I am proud to say that the ranch I buy my grass-fed pasture raised beef from provides donations to our local food bank when the beef is not sold.  Keep in mind that the meat is not sold because of lack of demand, people still wanting only certain cuts, and possibly too much fat for one’s liking.

33 million tons of food was thrown out, never to be recovered, in 2010.  I’m not sure that we’ve grasped the big picture of this either.  Food = $$ and when we throw out food, we’re throwing out money, a lot of money in an economy that is failing and a society that has more poverty-stricken families than ever before.  “If we wanted to stimulate the economy all we’d have to do is cut food losses,” said anthropologist at the University of Arizona’s Bureau of Applied Research Anthropology.

One of my readers sent me a very interesting article on how sustainable chefs are taking a new approach to utilizing food that was deemed otherwise not fit to eat.  I was going to rewrite the above sentence because ultimately this is not a new practice.  Based on what both my grandmothers did years ago – they were apparently ahead of their time.  In all seriousness it makes me happy to see that there are restaurants out there trying to practice less wasteful culinary options.

It has been said that if we as people change our consumption habits and views on what is considered waste we could change the landscape of what is considered a food crisis.  We could fix the starvation problem.  Here is a staggering statistic for you to think about, provided by Next Generation Food: “It is estimated that food wasted by the US and Europe could feed the world three times over. Food waste contributes to excess consumption of freshwater and fossil fuels which, along with methane and CO2 emissions from decomposing food, impacts global climate change. Every tonne of food waste prevented has the potential to save 4.2 tonnes of CO2 equivalent. If we all stop wasting food that could have been eaten, the CO2 impact would be the equivalent of taking one in four cars off the road.”     

Before I change gears, here is one more impact that I didn’t consider when first looking into food waste… water waste.  It takes a lot of water to grow food, especially in times like this when we’re experiencing a cold dry winter.  If 30% of US food is thrown away, that is equal to 40 trillion liters of water that has gone down the drain never to be used again.

So…how do we fix it?  Stop wasting…plain and simple.  But is it really?  Our lives have become busier than ever before; convenience and pre-made has become the way of life.  I found a good blog post by the Sustainable Blog on some simple tips to get you going.  It’s not drastic; just small changes to get you started.  I am by no means perfect and am still learning how I can better use my ingredients, plan my meals, and simply waste less; and I challenge you to do the same.  The future of our planet and our people depend upon it…

The images below are all produce that would have been taken to the dump or provided as compost if I had not used it.  Please note any boxes shown DO NOT represent farms that provided the produce…they were just boxes I had available to carry and store.

Now tell me… does this produce look like it should have been thrown away???


One response to “What Do You Consider Waste?

  1. Pingback: Food Waste in the Land of PlentyThe Sustainable Sweet & Savory Gourmet

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