I wouldn’t claim to be an environmental whiz kid, but I do the best I can.
I truly believe that even the smallest effort can make a huge difference. I read the numbers on the bottom of my plastic containers to make sure they can be recycled. I use empty bottles of wine to help water my plants — that’s really a win-win because I no longer have to remember to water them! But, I fall short in a few areas. I rarely finish a plate of food and have been guilty of tossing everything in my fridge in search of the one item that’s causing a funk.
Then I learned about food waste. And it’s no joke.
Food is the single largest contributor to landfills, and 40% of food in the U.S. is never eaten. That's a whole lot! But food waste isn't just about what winds up in our trash cans. Producing all of that wasted food uses over 20% of the U.S. supply of freshwater — that's more water than is used by California, Texas, and Ohio combined — and creates as much greenhouse gas emissions as 33 million passenger cars.
And food is a tricky issue in general. At the same time all of this food is being wasted, there are so many places, in the U.S. and abroad, where families simply do not have access to the nutritious foods that are out there.
Given all this, it seemed worth taking a look at ways to reduce food waste — or, at the very least, our individual food waste. These tips aren't a cure-all, but doing just a little bit can help to make these very big issues just a bit smaller. Here are a few of my favorites.
First things first: In an ideal world, our food wouldn't go bad.
Sometimes we can’t avoid it. We put a pear at the bottom of a bowl, and by the time we get to it, it’s becoming pear cider. But that’s what refrigerators are for! Did you know that those drawers at the bottom serve a specific purpose? I didn’t. Turns out, it's called a crisper for a reason. Want to become an expert at storing your fruits and veggies? Here are a few tips:
- Potatoes, onions, and tomatoes don't need to be kept in the fridge. It's actually better if they aren't.
- Salad greens should be stored in bags filled with a little air and sealed tightly. As someone who tries to remove all air from ziplock bags, this was an interesting tip.
- Not all fruits can be stored together: Avocados, bananas, and kiwis produce ethylene as they ripen, so they need to be separated from fruits like apples to prevent the latter from going bad.
Now, if you have a few food items that are already past their prime, there’s still time! These recipes are for you.
Full disclosure: I tried a few of these myself, but most of the delicious goodness you’re about to see is courtesy of the DIY mavens online.
Bruised fruit just … isn’t cute. But it’s still delicious.
Bananas look downright unappealing when they’re brown and spotty on the outside, but did you know that’s actually when they’re at the best for a few recipes?
I had a very unattractive banana lying around and decided to put it to good use.
1. Meet banana fritters.
2. And banana bread is another great way to get rid of your spotted bananas!
3. Do you have overripe peaches, strawberries, or really any fruit you find irresistible? Turn it into jam! It’s surprisingly easy.
4. Love breakfast foods? Your bruised fruit can play a role there, too. Those fruit-filled pancakes aren’t just for a fancy brunch. Smash your overripe fruit in a bowl, and make your own pancakes at home.
5. And how about popsicles? Did you know you could make those with overripe fruit? Your bruised peaches never looked so good.
And then there’s stale bread — it still has its uses!
6. Confession: I’m not much of a bread eater. Too often, I’d buy a loaf of gluten-free bread, forget about it, and toss it. But now I know that dried out bread can be transformed and used for something I really do like: breading things! Fried catfish is going to be perfect from now on.
7. And if you eat a lot of salads, spice them up with homemade croutons.
A lot of us have fallen victim to wasting parts of a whole rotisserie chicken. But not anymore.
After that first meal, there’s often so much chicken left that next steps can be confusing. Do you eat the same meal for a few days or toss the leftovers? Do neither! There are tons of ways to reuse leftover chicken.
10. BBQ it! Yes, you can take the same chicken, slather some BBQ sauce all over it, and voilà! A new meal. You can eat it as-is or shred it and make a sandwich. The world is yours.
11. As we head into winter, you can't go wrong with some comforting chicken soup.
12. And as a new West Coast resident, I can vouch for chicken quesadillas. Shred or chop up your leftovers and make them part of this meal. You won’t regret it.
And — this is mind-blowing — you can revive some of that produce you wrote off as goners. Yes, you read that right.
As certain vegetables wilt and start to lose their texture, they can be revived with some good ol’ water. Seriously. This is like a magic trick that we can all pull off.
So, you get it: Food waste sucks, but there are (delicious) ways to contribute to the solution.
Try some of these tips at home, and post your own tips! You never know which one of your tips can save someone else a ton of time and money while helping us all to treat this planet a little bit better.