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Green Living Tip: Waste not, want not

How many times have you done something like this?

Bought a beautiful head of green cabbage at the grocery, intending to make an ultra-healthy meal with it – and ended up throwing it out (and feeling ultra-guilty) because it had grown moldy?

You’re not alone.

Every day, Americans waste enough food to fill the Rose Bowl.
Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland, says we waste more than 40 percent of the food we produce – in our homes, in restaurants and schools, and even at the farm — — at an annual cost of about $100 billion.

He points to a 30-year study, the Garbage Project, which found that as much as 25 percent of the food we bring into our homes is wasted. Bloom calculates that a family of four that spends $175 a week on groceries squanders more than $40 worth of food each week and $2,275 a year.
And it’s not just our pocketbooks that suffer.

Food makes up about 19 percent of the waste dumped in landfills, where it ends up rotting and producing methane, a greenhouse gas. Squandering so much of what we grow also wastes the fossil fuel that went into growing, processing, transporting and refrigerating it.

Considering the millions of Americans who don’t get enough to eat every day, the issue of food waste is also a moral one.
At his website, Bloom writes that in 2005, he had two experiences that opened his eyes to the problem of food waste:
“Volunteering at D.C. Central Kitchen, a homeless shelter that rescues unused food from restaurants and supermarkets, illuminated the excess in those areas. Gleaning, or gathering crops that would otherwise be left in the field and distributing them to the hungry, illustrated the agricultural abundance that is often plowed under.”

But we can begin to do the right thing. Below, tips from Bloom and other anti-food waste crusaders:

  • Make friends with your freezer, using it to store fresh foods that would otherwise spoil before you have time to eat them.
  • Invest in special produce containers with top vents and bottom strainers to keep food fresh. Add a paper towel to the bottom of bagged lettuce and vegetables to absorb liquids.
  • Plan meals and create detailed shopping lists so you don’t buy more food than you can eat.
  • Don’t be afraid of brown spots or mushy parts that can easily be cut away.
  • When in doubt, throw it out, but also follow Bloom’s advice: “Try to give food the benefit of the doubt.”
  • Shop more, buy less. Resist buying the 20-pound bag of potatoes, even though it’s a great deal, if there’s a chance those spuds will sprout eyes before you can eat them. In the long run, it will probably save you a few bucks to hit the store more often, and buy only the perishable meat, dairy, bread and produce that you’ll use in the next few days. These tips, and those below, come from a CNN feature titled “Eatocracy.”
  • If possible, opt for loose vegetables and bulk bin dry goods, rather than pre-measured amounts, so you can buy just what you need. Your food will be fresher, you’ll waste less packaging and food, and you’ll spend less time wandering around your kitchen searching for the cause of the mystery smell.
  • Clean and trim your vegetables as soon as you get them home. They’ll last longer, and you’ll be more inclined to eat them or use them in recipes.
  • Put those cleaned veggies in containers in front of the fridge, so you’re more likely to grab them for a snack.
  • Store smartly. Keep a roll of tape and a Sharpie in easy reach and write the date on each container or bag to remind you when you bought it. Include meat, dairy and baked good purchases as well.
  • Store fruit separately from vegetables, as it releases ethylene gas that will cause vegetables to spoil more quickly.
  • Use every last scrap. Most of us throw out perfectly edible parts of plants, just because we don’t know better. Many chefs and gardeners know that the stems, leaves, tops and peels are edible or usable. Radish leaves, for example, rival arugula, escarole and mache for crunch and distinctive flavor. Sturdy cauliflower and broccoli stems can be shaved thin to sauté, roast or add raw crunch to salads and slaws.
  • Take vegetables that have begun to wilt (but don’t show any signs of mold or rot) and turn them into a stock, stew or soup. Put what can’t be salvaged into the compost bin.

And that entire head of cabbage you tossed? Next time, before you put it in your basket, ask the produce worker to cut it in half for you. Be realistic, in other words, about how much you’re really going to consume.