Reduced food waste in a green kitchen

I wrote last week about a couple who worked to produce zero trash for a year (and, of course, my attempt to incorporate one of their ideas into my everyday life). But if eliminating all trash seems overwhelming — and let’s be honest, it does — then start in the kitchen.

The Environmental Protection Agency says the U.S. throws away 34 million tons of food each year. Tons — that’s the unit of measurement composed of 2,000 pounds. Presumably, this includes leftovers that we forgot about, canned or frozen food that expired, the half-burger you couldn’t finish at the restaurant, etc.

I take a special pride in finding new or inventive ways to use up my leftovers. From my 15-pound Thanksgiving turkey came Thanksgiving (duh), turkey lasagna, turkey chili, turkey noodle soup, buffalo turkey dip and a few servings of stir fry. I don’t throw away food, whether I’ve spent money on it or it was given to me for free.

Then, Monday at lunch, a coworker pointed out an almond-sized, moldy-looking bruise on her clementine and decided she shouldn’t eat it. And I told her to eat around it, or cut it out. I’d do it — that’s what I do with moldy cheese. (As Kris pointed out in the comments below, though, those cut-around-it rules don’t apply across the board, and soft fruits with mold should be discarded. Oops!)

And then my coworkers looked at me like I was crazy, and they might not ever trust anything I baked or cooked for the office again. Well the joke’s on you, coworkers — my cut-off-the-mold solution (for hard cheeses, anyhow) is endorsed by the Food Safety and Inspection Service!

Of course, there are stipulations. FSIS directs the consumer to “discard any soft cheese showing mold. For hard cheese, such as Cheddar, cut off at least 1-inch around and below the mold spot (keep the knife out of the mold itself).” And in my defense, it’s always been a small spot of mold, not a big, hunking furry growth.

Aside from cheese, there are plenty of other ways to reduce your food waste. In “Folks, This Ain’t Normal,” author and farmer Joel Salatin advocates chickens as a great composters of food scraps. From trash to treasure, he argues — you get eggs in the end.

But if chickens seem a little out of your reach, you can return to the basics:

  • Reduce: Plan your menu ahead of time. It doesn’t have to be a month in advance (although kudos to those who do); a week in advance should suffice. But taking inventory of what’s in the fridge and what you can do with it, rather than impulse shopping each night, will reduce moldy, expired and wasted food. If you’re buying in bulk, be realistic about how much you’ll need. A big bucket of blueberries at Sam’s Club might look delicious, but not if it goes bad before you can finish it.
  • Reuse: Eat your leftovers. They can make a scrumptious lunch and protect your wallet from daily take-out lunches. You can also transform those leftovers into a different meal — i.e. Thanksgiving turkey into almost anything. Plenty of recipe websites, including Epicurious, have the ability to suggest meal ideas if you tell them what ingredients you have on hand.
  • Recycle: OK, this might be a stretch for you three-Rs sticklers — but you can consider donating unwanted surplus to a food bank as a type of recycling. Some restaurants have these agreements with food pantries, but you can contribute on a smaller scale, too. Bought a multiple pack of something and realized it’s too much or not to your taste? A perfect donation.

You can find more tips on reducing food waste via the EPA. Or, leave us a comment and let us know how you avoid throwing out your moldy cheeses — am I alone in cutting away the bad to find the cheesy goodness hidden under there?!

Sarah Chain

I'm an avid reader and book lover living and working in downtown York. Follow me on Twitter at @sarahEchain.

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2 Responses

  1. Kris says:

    I appreciate the message of reducing food waste, however your advice to cut around the mold on your co-workers clementine is NOT accurate. The FSIS link you provided even says, “Discard any soft fruits or vegetables, jams and jellies, bread, and baked goods that show signs of mold.”

    It is NOT safe to just cut around mold on fruits, veggies, or bread because the mold penetrates beyond what you can simply see.

  2. Sarah Chain says:

    Oops! You’re right, Kris — a clementine would be considered a soft fruit. There’s a more in-depth chart via FSIS here. Thanks for pointing it out.

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