10 Ways to Reduce Food Waste at Home
Siobhan O'Connor is a natural beauty and health expert and the co-author, with Alexandra Spunt, of the blog No More Dirty Looks and the book of the same name.
When you throw out food, it ends up in a landfill. Duh, right? Except I bet most of us don’t really think about that when we toss a head of wilted romaine in the bin, which is why 27 percent of all food we bring into the house ends up in the trash. (That’s the official number; I bet the real number is much higher.) Once in the trash, it doesn’t “biodegrade”—mainly because it’s in a landfill, where it produces methane as it decomposes. Since we like to live as clean as we can over here in No More Dirty Looks land, here’s a list of ways to reduce the food you throw out, and what to do with it if it really is past its prime. (Bonus below: A delicious recipe.)
1. Freeze your food scraps. I use this silicone Fuccillo bin (pictured) for all my scraps and food that goes bad, and I love it. I used to use a pyrex bowl but this was problematic because everything stuck to it, making the task of chipping away at frozen produce scraps unpleasant and difficult. I would sometimes have to let it thaw to get it out of the bowl, which defeats the purpose of freezing it in the first place, yes? Yes. And then I discovered this genius bin. Nothing sticks to it, I can easily remove my scraps, and then I bring them to the farmer’s market where they can be composted and turned into fertilizer.
2. Sign up for a CSA. Lots of people say CSAs cause them to waste more food not less, but for me, when I am forced to think about the actual farm with actual farmers who are harvesting my food, I am much less inclined to let it go to waste. For the uninitiated, here’s how a CSA works: You sign up (and pay in advance) for 22 weeks of fresh produce and fruit. Then, in the summer, you start getting your yields either delivered to your house or at a pickup location near you. (To find a CSA in your area, click here.) Mine averages out to less than $20 a week for more vegetables and fruit than a girl knows what to do with. But wait! That doesn’t mean you get to throw out the extra. Read on.
3. Share. A no-brainer, but in our I’ve-never-met-my-neighbors world it can be hard to remember. If you have too much food, you are in the very lucky minority in this entire freaking world, and you shouldn’t let it go to waste. Instead, bring some to a friend, throw a dinner party, or bring it to your office for your coworkers—before it spoils. People will happily take plump strawberries off your hands; your wilted mustard greens, probably not.
4. Play Top Chef in your kitchen. The secret ingredient is whatever you’re thinking about chucking because a) you don’t know what to do with it (oh hey, garlic scapes), or b) you don’t like it. Commit to never throwing out produce, and then get creative. A few weeks ago I got some scapes and decided on a whim to blanch them then turn them into a kind of pesto. It was a recipeless experiment and guess what? Super tasty! (If you want to try: a bunch of scapes, blanched for 3 minutes; throw them in the blender with a few glugs of olive oil, salt, pepper, juice of one lemon, and parmesan—or nutritional yeast if you’re vegan—and voila! Great with salmon, eggs, other veggies, pasta, etc.)
5. Make pickles. Last week, my friends and I took a class with pickle man Bob McClure at Brooklyn Kitchen. We all have CSAs and it seemed a good skill to have to reduce waste. Also, then you get to eat pickles. I spent Sunday pickling red onions, beets, lemons, and cucumbers at my friend Erika’s house and in just four hours we produced 17 jars, some of which was sourced from what we had lying around in our fridges. You don’t want to go making pickles willy-nilly, though. Take a class or get a book, and learn how to sterilize your jars properly.
6. Make juice. Before it wilts or spoils, throw your produce in the blender and make a juice. Juicing is expensive, which is why I’ve avoided getting too into the whole thing, but if you have stuff that will otherwise end up in a landfill, why not put it in your body instead? Experiment with different combinations and worst case scenario, it sucks and you flush it down the toilet. (Don’t do that, though. Just plug your nose and drink it!)
7. Find places that will make use of your waste. Lots of farmers markets have food-scrap collections that take your waste and turn it into black gold (fertilizer, friends). The June issue of Prevention magazine had a list of places that will take your waste off your hands, gratis, so cop that issue. And if you’re lucky enough to live in a place like Washington, DC, you can reach out to Compost Cab.
8. Shop like a Parisian. This is how I grew up eating. We never had one of those insanely stocked fridges; we had the basics, and then my mom would pop down to the fish guy or the grocery store before supper to get whatever she felt like making that night. I understand that this doesn’t work for everyone, but we were a household with two hungry kids (and, often enough, our hungry friends) where both parents had full-time jobs, and we made it work. Maybe you can’t do this every day, but you can do it a couple times a week? I don’t know.
9. Store it properly. I am not great about this, but I know it to be true: By storing your food properly in the fridge with reusable produce bags and glass, you can seriously extend the life of your food.
10. Cook it, then freeze it. This is another obvious one that sounds like more of a pain than it is. I did this last week with spinach: Steamed it (5 minutes), chopped it (1 minute), let it cool (passive time; doesn’t count), then bagged it and put it in the freezer (30 seconds).
What tips do you have for reducing food waste in your house?