Reducing Food Waste: A Personal Odyssey

Reducing Food Waste: A Personal Odyssey

If you have read any of the Crow Nickels, you know that the crows are deeply concerned about the climate crisis, which as most scientists agree, is mostly driven by humans. One source of the problem is food waste. In the US, 40% of food gets thrown out by consumers. In other parts of the world, the food is wasted because it spoils before it reaches the consumers or it rots before it even gets harvested. This means a lot of energy and water and land is wasted in producing food that never gets eaten by us humans.

Now, many people are working on these problems, which have many solutions. Some problems can only be solved by producers and those in the food chain. However, we as individuals can work to reduce our own food consumption. This can be done by (1) eating less, and (2) wasting less.

Husband and I have always agreed on the principle of not throwing out food. He’s better at this than I, eating things well past their sell date. But recently, over the Xmas-New Year holidays of 2021 and 2022, we went much further. This was because the omicron variant of covid was raging in our part of the world, and we decided that – despite each of us being boosted – for a few weeks we would avoid all shops and stores. We have always had a good supply of cans, jars and boxes, and this was the time to use them.

First, during this period we reduced our general consumption. For example, in this raclette meal, you can see the two last potatoes in the house. Usually we go through many more!

Eating less may not seem like a way to reduce food waste, exactly, but if those who could afford it health-wise would eat less food, the world could produce less, and hence free up resources. (And also devote fewer resources to transportation, as freighting around lighter people takes less energy.) Besides, we really did get enough, when you include the cheese and the onions and the garlic not pictured. Furthermore, in the time of covid it is much safer to have a lower BMI, and generally it’s healthier, too.

Second, we decided to make the most of what we already had. This meant scouring the shelves, the nooks and crannies of the fridge, and opening tubes and jars I had been reluctant to test. To my surprise, nearly everything was edible. Jalapeño peppers are apparently just too spicy to go moldy.

Now, I’m not recommending everyone start eating expired food. If it appears suspect, don’t eat it. If it might be OK, do the smell test. Then the taste test. After that, wait a while and see if you have any problems. But we have discovered things in the fridge and in the cupboards that seem perfectly good despite being long past their sell-by dates.

Husband is an avid consumer of fruit, preferably fresh. But fresh fruit only lasts so long. He has rationed, but there are only a few bites remaining. To supplement the fruit, he has combined the fresh with some preserved fruits (of course, preserved fruits come with sugar, which is bad for you). Husband even started by opening a jar of rhubarb compote, which should have been consumed a dozen years ago. Not only did it not make him sick (he can consume anything) but he liked it so much he wanted more.

the last lonely plum in the usually crowded fruit bowl

To meet my own fruit requirements, I stirred some (sweetened and still unexpired) applesauce into packages of sauerkraut. This gives me a fruit portion and plenty of vitamin C. Then, there are usually dried plums and raisins available, to supplement the fruit portions.

Me, I really like fresh vegetables, but we’ve had to ration those as well. We are using every bit of our cabbages, even the cores, which are perfectly edible if you chop them thin enough (note this takes some work).

Combining the cabbage with red beans, onions, lardons, and some chili-garlic sauce that was still good after gathering dust for a decade, makes a great meal when served on rice.

Then, there are ways of making other vegetables last even longer. My green onions produced for at least twelve weeks after I bought them. This is what remains at the end.

Green onions: what remains after three months of production

Because there are times when one cannot leave the house – usually due to snow, not pandemics – we always have many canned goods, pictured above, in an old fridge stored in the garage. Combining these with various sauces and spices has turned out really well. In fact, we have enjoyed some meals so much that we intend to do several of them again, but on purpose instead in extremis.

In the past four weeks, we have spent less than $15 at a grocery store, something that only happened because we had been asked to bring dessert to the house of some friends (before the covid numbers spiked). It’s been fun to see how much money we have been saving. But I also hope we’re helping the planet a bit as well.

Victoria Grossack is the author of the Crow Nickels, of which two volumes are available: Hunters of the Feather and Scavengers of Mind. They are about Sol, a thinker-linker crow who has a quest to save the Great Flock from climate change. “Try, and again try, till you win or till you die.” Junkyard Abner, Hunters of the Feather

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