The Mindful Cook

Changing just a few habits in the kitchen can make a huge difference in reducing food waste.

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Climate change has reached a crisis level and the globe’s trash troubles are at an all-time high. Much of the world’s waste comes from food and its packaging. While better laws and technology and are needed to combat this problem, there are many practices that we, as home cooks, can adopt to help the cause. Composting, repurposing leftovers and growing your own herbs are just a few ways to reduce your environmental footprint. 

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS

It starts with making a conscious effort to make little changes in your daily routine. One obvious thing we can do that often goes overlooked is fridge organization. Follow the “right to left” rule. New foods are stored on the right side of the fridge, with existing items moved farther left. Another way to reduce food waste is to shop smart – don’t overbuy – especially produce, which has a short shelf life. Reducing food waste starts before we even enter grocery store. Plan ahead with an organized shopping list and a weekly meal plan. Not only will this eliminate waste, it will save you money. 

For those of you who already compost, bravo! Rather than throwing out things like carrot stems and eggshells, you can compost them, turning them into nutrient-rich fertilizer. You can even compost coffee filters and paper towel. Speaking of paper towel, instead of reaching for it every time there’s a spill, reach for a reusable cloth instead. It is small, mindful habits like these that add up over time and make an impact. 

Reducing food waste starts before we even enter grocery store.

LEFTOVERS

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, leftovers are bound to happen and how you use them likely has a lot to do with where you live. In Spain, for example, Migas is a Spanish word that translates to “crumbs” and is an iconic dish that was first prepared as a way to use old, stale bread with combined leftovers from the week. 

In South America, barbecue “burnt ends” is a dish that used to be tossed away before becoming a delicacy in certain cities like Kansas City. When a brisket is smoked, the fatty ends of the cut take the brunt of the heat flow and become crispy and charred. Once considered inedible, pit masters began covering them in barbecue sauce and selling them as a sandwich. Turns out that crispy fat combined with a vinegary barbecue sauce tastes pretty darn good! 

When preparing a chicken or turkey, it is common to have leftovers. Both meats make nice additions to soups, chowders and pot pies. Furthermore, these meals freeze well. Eggs and leftover meats also go hand in hand. Think frittatas, omelettes and eggs benedict. Cheese approaching the mold zone? Wilting peppers? Mix them with eggs and fry them up for a delicious (and resourceful) lunch!

Make a conscious effort to seek out recipes that were designed to maximize every ingredient.

COMMUNITY

Shopping for in-season ingredients at local farmers markets or, better yet, growing your own food are other positive actions you can take to combat food and packaging waste. If you don’t have outdoor space, you can still grow sprouts and herbs in window sills or invest in one of the dozens of affordable smart-gardens that are now on the market. 

Community gardens have been popping up over the last decade in many cities, and now community fridges are gaining momentum. These outdoor fridges are typically managed and stocked by volunteers, filled with everything from fresh produce to canned goods. Initiatives like this are two-fold. They reduce the burden on landfills and alleviate food insecurity, which has only worsened with the COVID-19 crisis. 

Lastly, make a conscious effort to seek out recipes that were designed to maximize every ingredient. Gabrielle Hamilton, an American chef and cookbook author, is a wonderful example of someone using their platform to spread awareness on the issue of food waste. We recommend checking out her cookbook, “Prune,” which showcases her innovative approach to cooking and includes a chapter entirely devoted to smart ways to repurpose “garbage,” that would, otherwise, have gotten tossed.