Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Apparently my Mom was right to be fretful over wasting food. In an article running in the Times this past weekend, "One Country's Table Scraps, Another Country's Meal" by Andrew Martin, he notes that in the midst of food shortages and riots world wide, Americans throw out the equivalent of a pound of wasted food for each man, woman and child, every day.

I'm going to repeat that because it bears a little sinking in time.

Every day, every single day, Americans discard the equivalent of ONE FULL POUND of wasted food PER PERSON.

Grocery stores throw out food with minor blemishes or early signs of spoilage. Restaurants throw out what they don't use or what is left untouched on customer's plates. Consumers (that's you and me, bub) throw out that too brown banana, the yogurt just past the expiration date or the lettuce that wilted before we got to it. That extra portion of Chinese take out from last week? The last couple of tablespoons of sour cream? Those heels from the loaf of sandwich bread? Into the trash it all goes. A pound a day per person. Food waste is the third largest source of generated waste by weight in America. That is simply staggering.

Last night I was with a gathering of folks planning a special PRIDE Worship service to be held here in Austin in early June. One person at our table ordered a piece of Italian Cream Cake and was brought a piece of carrot cake instead. He kept the carrot cake, despite it being brought to him in error, because he knew if he sent it back, even untouched, the kitchen policy would be to throw it out and replace it with a slice from the cake he had originally ordered. He just didn't want to be responsible for the wasted food.

How has it come to this? How is it that the "responsible" thing to do is now to eat whatever mistakes are served rather than know you are adding to an ever growing pile of discarded food thrown out in sight of people who won't get enough to eat day to day?

There are many answers to that question but many simple solutions as well and some of them are bound to work for you. One is to compost rather than throwing out unused food. At this time only 2 percent of food waste is composted as opposed to some 48 percent of yard waste. Our daughter lives in a tiny condo and has no outdoor space to establish a compost pile. She stores her food scraps in a tightly covered container and brings them here once a week to add to our compost.

Another answer is to order less fast food with the typically too large portions. Don't SuperSize anything.

Try to buy less at a time in the grocery store in the first place. Buying in bulk to save pennies and then throwing out the excess is not really saving anything in the long run. You aren't just throwing out that food - you are throwing out all the energy expended in raising the food, harvesting it and then transporting it to market. All those costs are passed along - to YOU.

Exercise discipline in using up what you have before you buy more. The carbon from an extra trip to the store may well be mitigated by the resulting decrease in combined methane emitted from landfills "cooking" all our discarded food. If you can't use a half dozen eggs within a reasonable amount of time, considering splitting up some of those more perishable purchases with another person. Both my kids have their own places, but since we all live in the same metropolitan area, we often split up larger food purchases to save money and reduce waste. My husband and I can't finish off a bag of organic apples by ourselves, but in combination with my adult kids we can easily divide up the bag and use the apples before they spoil.

Be realistic about how important appearances are to you in terms of what you eat, and buy accordingly. This is something shoppers new to "buying organic" have to adjust to. We've been brainwashed into thinking food must look perfect on the outside and have a long shelf life rather than requiring good taste and loads of nutrients. The preference for food that looks good on the outside has long dominated the chain grocer's produce section. Understanding that vegetables beginning to look past their prime can still be used to make stock, reassess what must be thrown out. And, speaking of stock......
Making Stock - IF you are using organic vegetables you can use all sorts of "past their prime" bits - soft carrots, dried out onions, the stems and leaves of nearly every vegetable will release some sort of nutrients when cooked. One exception to that rule is carrot leaves and stems - they become bitter. Everything else is pretty much fine. You can use potato peels, carrot peels, those stem and root ends of onions - even the skins! IF they are organic. If they are not, then peel and compost the skins and leaves and roots because they might contain trace elements of pesticides. You are looking for nutritious stock, not some noxious chemical stew.

If you have been getting your organic veggies from a farm or farmer's market, when putting together your organic bits, do check carefully for hitchhikers. The occasional creepy crawly makes it all the way to your kitchen buried down in the larger leafy parts, so unless you are OK with unanticipated protein in your stock, keep an eye out for intruders.Pile your veggies in the pan and add enough water to cover. I tend to add "lumps first, leaves second", meaning I put root and stalk veggies in first and follow with leaves towards the end since they tend to cook down faster. Keep at a low simmer until everything begins to soften and release flavor into the pot. Don't add salt until the end or it can become too concentrated.

Once your stock is no longer clear or transparent, you can remove the vegetable pieces and if you have not added any meat to the mix, once those vegetable solids have cooled you can toss them into your compost heap for further decomposition. Strain the stock a couple of times to get the particles out and then cook it down until it has a nicely concentrated flavor. You can make soup from the stock right away or freeze it for later use. A great idea is to freeze it in an ice cube tray so you will have little flavor bombs to toss into future sauces, soups and stews, without having to defrost the whole shebang. For further information check out: Making Stock
Bottom line is this. If we do not control our habits, eventually our habits will control us. And when it comes to food, you ought not eat more than you need to satisfy your nutritional requirements or your hunger, but you also ought not buy so much that you end up throwing out unused food. That wasted food will always come at somebody else's expense.

Blogger Jonathan Bloom who is writing a book about wasted food in America sums it up thusly: "To a certain extent, it’s true that capitalism encourages waste. But my response to supermarket waste is: If restaurants can use software to (somewhat) accurately predict demand and make ordering more precise, why can’t grocery stores? And when they do have to bump perfectly good produce, donate it!

We not be able to completely avoid food waste, but we can do a whole heck of a lot better."

And we means YOU. And me. Let's not waste time on top of the food we've been thoughtlessly throwing out.

Read more about it/find out how to help:
America's Second Harvest
Capital Area Food Bank
Mother Earth News articles: "Compost Made Easy"
"Is it OK NOT to Compost?"
Food Waste Facts

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