According to a 2012 report released by the Natural Resource Defense Council 40 percent of the food in the United States goes to waste. Much of this is in the production and marketing of pre-packed and pre-prepared foods, and much of it is due to over-sized restaurant portions. But a lot of it just gets tossed from our refrigerators because we forgot to get around to cooking it.
Food waste argues against itself. There are no good reasons to waste food, only good excuses for why it happens. I believe that one of the primary contributors to American food waste is the loss of home life and the domestic art of cooking. Sure, people still make a couple of things here and there, and we will still make a special trip to the store to try a new recipe from the Times, but the art of daily cooking, and the practice of sitting down to eat has been disappearing from our lives since the 1980's. Cooking has become a form of social action.
That we make too much food and then throw it away or let the leftovers go bad is true, but an overlooked and important contribution to food waste is in our food preparation. More specifically, because we no longer cook from scratch or with regularity, we waste more food. Vegetable ends and peels go into the trash or compost instead of a broth. Past-fresh breads and pastries are thrown out instead of cooked into a bread pudding. Leftovers and need to be eaten now items are tossed over for takeout instead of cooked into a improvised hash. Knowing how to prepare our food, what is edible and is not, how long it can be kept, or how to freeze and preserve leftovers or seasonal batches can prevent food waste as well. Do you use the lemon zest before you slice the lemon? Do you remember to toss the squeezed lemon wedges in with the chicken to season it as it roasts?
While food preparation waste may not be the largest contributor to our overall food waste, the NRDC claims that a decrease in our food waste of even 15 percent could feed 25 million Americans annually. Small changes go a long way.
The best things you could be cooking with things you might otherwise throw away:
- vegetable broth
- sweet or savory bread pudding
- veggie and cheese spreads/tapenades
- smoothies and juices
Hash is an dish with protein, veggies and some kind of starch (potatoes etc.) although you can substitute a grain like rice or quinoa.
The New York Times lists lots of simple and delicious hash recipes:
Vegetable and meat broths can be made easily from scraps and frozen until you need them. An easy starter recipe from Frugal Living:
Bread puddings are easy and flexible, substitute any kind of bread and add or subtract sweet and savory ingredients.
Ina Garten's Bread Pudding:
Veggie and cheese spreads can be made in minutes with bits and pieces of whatever you have lying around. Alton Brown has a great beginners recipe:
Smoothies are almost infinitely variable. Better Homes and Gardens provides a great selection of recipes:
NRDC Report of Food Waste: