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Fighting Food Waste

Updated: Oct 1, 2022

When I was in my twenties, I'd pick up broccoli or green peppers at the grocery because, as an adult, that's what I was supposed to be eating. Days later I'd find myself staring into the refrigerator for something to munch and discover those vegetables staring back. But they needed to be washed, peeled, or cooked. Or at that moment, they just didn't appeal. Perhaps a few days after that (read: a week), I'd note that the greens had softened or grown dark spots. Then I'd stop looking altogether—until days later a stench might catch my attention. I'd finally throw things out as it became clear that the vegetables had transformed into a slimy swamp monster lurking in the recesses of the produce bin.

I grew up with daily reminders not to throw away food, and I've gotten better over the years—perhaps due to the delayed effect of my mother's admonishments about wastage and starving children. My next strategy went something like this: 1. Put wilted food in a pot. 2. Add water and boil. 3. Simmer for 10 minutes. 4. Add salt. Voilà! Dinner was served.

Lee called this the garbage soup recipe. Often he refused to eat it and would only shake his head as he watched me plow through my concoction. (Lee and I had very different childhoods.) Over time, I got better about meal planning. Though sometimes I still might make a fresh recipe on Sunday, and if it's not gone by Tuesday, I use the leftovers as a basis for something "new." Lee is onto me with this trick, but he accepts it as an improvement over the garbage soup.

Since the pandemic food has taken up more space in my life. On most days I'm either shopping for it, researching choices, or preparing something that takes a bit of time. In fact, if I'm procrastinating a writing project, I'm probably thinking about food. And the impacts of our food choices do extend beyond our health as individuals. When it comes to carbon emissions, food is a biggie. According to New Scientist food production accounts for 37 percent of global carbon emissions.

One of my writer friends, June Fortunato, also has food fixations that have nothing to do with what she’s craving for dinner. She once informed a boyfriend that she refused to live with a man who wouldn't compost. Maybe she should sell that idea as a test for new relationships.

June shared some of her food hacks with me. "I always use stems and things like that and he (the boyfriend turned husband) started doing it to make soup. I go to markets that have dollar bags and process the produce immediately, often roasting it or freezing it.... (it's) usually tastier than the stuff that costs a fortune in the regular grocery stores."

The items she finds at her deeply-discounted grocer are close to the expiration date, but because she prepares them immediately, they don't go to waste. Additionally, June won’t eat red meat as cows are notorious methane production factories and require an intense investment of resources to produce a small amount of food.

Her latest discovery is something that herbivores and carnivores can get behind. She recently turned me on to an app called Flashfood. At first I thought that all of the food had been flash-frozen, but actually folks at Flashfood have found a way to use technology to move groceries quickly before they expire.

I downloaded the app and discovered that my local Giant has fire-sale prices on breads, produce, and meats. Each listing includes an expiration date. Everything from wild salmon to cookies is offered in attractive displays that remind us we’re helping the planet. I have specific days when I combine the grocery chore with other errands, so on my next shopping mission, I'll post my finds in the comment section. Also, if Flashfood doesn't have a location close to you, check out the link below for other options.

These days when I see a softening pepper in the refrigerator, the drumbeat of my mother's waste reminders comes back to me. (Even though I didn't listen at the time.) I'm happy to send up the message that I'm doing better with it these days.

What are your strategies for reducing waste in your life? Please share!

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