Kitchen efficiency + tips for reducing food waste

I think I’m pretty lucky to have grown up as part of a generation where recycling is considered second nature. “Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.” was a slogan used in commercials back in my Sesame Street and Nickelodeon days, and so now that we’re adults, it’s almost too easy to identify, separate, and properly dispose of recyclables. In fact, J and I only put out a little less than one trash can a week, and that’s because our recycling bin is full to bursting. Don’t even make me tell you about the chaos that happens when we occasionally miss trash day. Milk cartons and cardboard boxes – everywhere!

That being said, I’m not that hardcore about my recycling ways. Aside from the time that I would steal old newspapers from my college roommate’s regular trash can and slip them into the dorm’s recycling bins (they were right outside our door!), I’m not the kind of person who digs through people’s trash cans, snatches empty cans from their hands before they’re even finished, or lectures others on the morality of recycling and its impact on the environment. Of course I know (my brother is about to finish his Master’s in environmental science), but I never like being the morality police. Plus, sometimes I get a little … lazy. It’s only sometimes! But you know when you’ve been soaking the empty peanut butter jar all day to get rid of the leftover bits … and the stupid peanut butter just won’t wash away … and you don’t feel like getting peanut butter all over everything to properly scrub it out … and it’s Sunday night, and you need to get the last trash out before bed? Yeah, sometimes I just throw that jar away, and hope that the overflowing bin of other jars that are properly cleaned and ready to be recycled make up for it.

But anyway, moving on from the recycling confessional, another area of life that I’ve always wanted to do better with is composting, and being smarter with my food scraps. Recycling, composting … they’re both common sense solutions to the overwhelming amount of waste we tend to create in our lives, and they’re both relatively easy, and so why not? Well, while recycling has been easy, composting has not. For years, we lived in a tiny townhouse, with a tiny kitchen, so I didn’t have room for a counter-top composter. Plus, not going to lie, the idea of rotting food on my counter (even if there’s no smell!) grosses me out a little. And I just couldn’t decide on the right “patio composter” to purchase, because they were either too big (tiny patio), or too expensive (damn hipsters, driving up the prices of living well).

To be honest, I always assumed  that once we bought a house, I would build my own composter in the backyard, similar to the one at my parents’ house. Well, now we have the house, and a fairly good size backyard, but still no composter. You know, there’s just a lot of other things to do during your first year of home ownership, especially when both new homeowners are working graduate students. Projects happen … eventually.

This spring and summer is the time we’ve set aside to actually start building things in our yard (shed, flower garden, etc.), so I hope it’s the year of the composter. We’ll see. Until then, though, I thought these articles from the New York Times regarding ways to reduce food waste in general was highly relevant to my life as a guilty environmentalist, as well as supremely interesting.

In “Efficiency in the Kitchen to Reduce Food Waste“, the author mentions that the spirit behind radically reducing food waste in the kitchen harkens back to our grandparents’ generation, when food was precious and conservation was considered patriotic. A lot of that was lost in the buzz following the emergence of pre-packaged, industrial food products, and as young people grew up with shortcuts and easy meals, people forgot how to cook.

I’ve read this story before (The Omnivore’s Dilemma, anyone? Great book, by the way.), but it’s interesting to read how today’s young people are embracing more of this conservative, efficient ethos in the kitchen. Raised, as we were, to think broadly about world issues and care for the earth, as we get older, we’re turning away from waste, and finding ways to be smarter with our lives. Again, I’m not the poster child for this, but it’s really great.

Along those lines, The Times published another piece recently, “Tips to Reduce Food Waste“, which is a collection of crowd-sourced tips from readers and cooks across the country. Because I don’t have that online subscription to the The Times, and can’t really afford to revisit this article on my laptop more than once, I wanted to jot down some of my favorite tips:

Saute lettuce that has begun to wilt in olive oil and season with garlic or shallot.

Seriously, I hate when I have to toss out the wilted lettuce at the end of the week. Trying this today, hopefully it’s good.

Save orange rinds, especially from those juiced oranges. Dry them and use as fire kindling, where they release a delightful aroma against the wood smoke.

Good to know. I also throw my orange rinds into the garbage disposal, and use them to perk up brown sugar that’s getting stale and hard (though don’t forget about them for two weeks, like I did, because they will rot).

Make stock.

I’ve known this for a long time, but I just haven’t gotten around to learning how to/actually making chicken stock. I want to because I use chicken stock all the time, but for years now, I’ve been using dissolved boullion cubes in water in place of stock because it’s a) cheap, b) won’t go bad, and c) cheap. I’d want to make stock and freeze it, for sure. Although, it sure would be nice to have that stock pot I’ve always wanted first.

Save even small amounts of bacon grease and rendered pork fat from roasts. Use to roast potatoes and root vegetables, or with greens.

Really? Huh.

Peel citrus with potato peeler, freeze it, and use it as needed for zest.

OMG doing this. I feel like I always have to buy fruit to have the zest, but sometimes, you just don’t need a bag of lemons hanging around, amirite?

So many good tips. The article also recommends pulsing your dried bread in a food processor to make bread crumbs, but for a long time now, I’ve cut up the butt ends of my old bread loaves, and then roast them in a 350 degree over with olive oil for about 10-12 minutes. What you get: croutons that I actually want to eat (store-bought croutons: yucky).

read thisEfficiency in the Kitchen to Reduce Food Waste and Tips to Reduce Food Waste from The New York Times.



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