Making do with more – or less

We waste a lot of food in the US – in grocery stores, restaurants, warehouses, and in our own homes. A peek in our kitchens reveals quirks and practices unique to each household, so figuring out how to waste less at home depends on how we buy, store, prepare, and eat our food.

Keeping just enough fresh food on hand to fix a few meals makes my fridge look pretty darn bare. That sparseness strikes a panic that hearkens back to my babysitting days, when fridge-raiding was an unspoken benefit of a 75 cent hourly wage. After the grown-ups departed and the kids were tucked in, I’d head to the kitchen to scope out the foreign landscape. Nothing made my heart sink faster than finding a refrigerator with no clear purpose. Those late hours stretched mightily with nothing more than a too-speckled banana, a skinny carton of skim milk, and a loaf of unfamiliar bread with no peanut butter in sight. Sigh.

Our family’s fridge was at the other end of the spectrum, a bulging reservoir of delicious remnants of previous meals. My parents were frugal products of the Great Depression. Supper leftovers were held in high regard at our house. My dad punctuated their reappearance on subsequent nights with a cheery, “Bongo”! His enthusiasm was so contagious we (my brother excluded) felt happy about a second go-round of liver and onions. We simply did not throw out food, we ate it; all of it.

If folks in your household won’t eat leftovers, the solution is to prepare meals that leave no remnants, like the family I babysat for. Lovers of abundance eat leftovers straight up or create inventive conglomerations…in a timely manner. A good dose of cumin, chipotle pepper and kidney beans can strong-arm Sunday’s curried carrots, Monday’s leftover Italian sausage spaghetti sauce, and Tuesday’s taco meat into a savory melting pot of chili for Wednesday’s supper. Good intentions don’t cut it if leftovers are simply shoved to the back of the refrigerator to be discovered at a much later date well beyond when they are edible, let alone recognizable.

What if each household took a look at how things work in our kitchens and dinner tables? Maybe resolve, in 2016, to change some old habits and adopt some new practices to trim our household “waste-lines”? Here are some great tips to get you started:

By Susan Darley-Hill, an Environmental Program Coordinator for the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District