A Global Food Crisis In Our Kitchen
Did you know that we are facing a global crisis of food waste every year? One third of the food in our kitchen ends up in the landfills of North America and Europe, that’s 250 pounds of food per person annually. But none of us have to contribute to that waste, with up to half fruits and vegetables and a third animal products (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2018). Rather than toss the food items that don’t get consumed quickly enough, we can find uses for them still, saving money while we keep the household bellies happy and full.
Best by. That “best used by” or “sell by” on your dairy products, meats, and eggs doesn’t mean they’re inedible – they’re still safe to consume beyond this date (except fish), but their quality is diminished. Soured milk, though, can be used to improve the quality of baking. Be aware of what you can consume in the time that a food is fresh and create a weekly menu to strategize how to use these foods.
Hot or cold? I know it sounds unbelievable to us, but a lot of people in the world lack basic refrigeration considered a necessity in industrialized countries, and it becomes a problem especially during the heat of summer. It honestly isn’t a necessary item, provided you have time for frequent marketing shopping and can purchase in small quantities. Daily market trips actually save money because there is far less food waste! Fun fact – salsas and other spicy food toppings were actually created to cover the taste of spoiled foods. Make your own spicy sauce if you think the taste of the food is affected by age.
Store properly. Your fruits and veggies are often stored better NOT in the refrigerator, and even those we refrigerate usually have a day or two before they go bad, so buy them in smaller quantities. Once fruits have been cut, you can prevent them browning and spoiling through a couple of meals by sprinkling them with lemon juice. The taste won’t linger!
Grow your own. Fruits, vegetables, and herbs obviously last longer if they aren’t pulled, and they’re cheaper from your own from seeds. If you don’t have land to garden on, container gardening can happen even on an empty bank account using some dirt and repurposed food cans. You don’t have to pick or cut until you need it. Limited space in an urban apartment doesn’t have to hold you back – balconies and wall gardens can hold sufficient gardening to feed your small family if it’s well-planned!
Compost. Now hear us out; compost is food waste. But it can serve a purpose and doesn’t have to add to the dump – food waste is the largest contributor to our landfills. Food and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, and even manure from vegetarian animals can all be repurposed to help you grow your own garden. Urban gardeners can get in on this too with countertop or patio compost pails.
Avoid bulk purchases. We know the cost savings of bulk food buys – and it’s a lie! First, with an ounce per ounce comparison, sometimes you save little to nothing. And then realistically, will you consume it all? It usually goes stale too fast and gets tossed. That means you lost money! Other times you have no storage room and you can’t find the item or critters get into it. All that effort to save usually ends up more wasteful.
Shop for needs, don’t deny wants. Stock up on items with long shelf life, space permitting. Dry pasta lasts forever while fresh fruits and meats can be purchased according to the meal plan for the day. Keeping a stock of the easy, cheap, long-life items helps inspire your dish base ideas for the day and keeps you from running for the same things daily that actually take away from your valuable time.
“But what specifically can we do with spoiled foods? You’d be surprised at how easily you can save almost any foods before they go bad.”
Dairy. Expired milk is usually the first thing we throw out, but it’s a mistake! Soured milk gives pancakes and biscuits a better texture, and you can replace buttermilk with it in baking recipes. Until we became more conscious of food waste in my home, we constantly threw away milk and cottage cheese – and they’re expensive! Now, we make our own cottage cheese with the milk we didn’t consume in time.
With a half-gallon of curdled milk, 3 tablespoons of vinegar, a teaspoon of salt, and just a bit of fresh milk, you can make your own that lasts for up to a week. Pour the spoiled milk into a sauce pan and heat it to 185 degrees Fahrenheit. Pull from the heat and add vinegar, then stir until the curd and whey separates – add a little vinegar until they do if it isn’t happening. Line a colander with cheesecloth and pour, squeezing more water out through the cloth. Then you’ve got cottage cheese you can customize to your preference! Crumble the curds to your preferred size, then add salt and fresh milk, stirring and adding to reach your favorite consistency. Unless it will be consumed in one sitting at a family meal, this needs to be refrigerated.
“Did the ricotta cheese you made still start to go bad? Use it in baking recipes!”
Fruits. Fruits are the next item to go bad quickly, but there are plenty of ways to salvage them, thankfully. The obvious way is with a smoothie, if you have a blender available. You can even freeze the smoothies for later. Apples are also perfect for applesauce.
Everyone knows old bananas make delicious banana bread, but strawberries seem to go bad the moment you look away after getting home from the grocery store, and what’s better than banana bread and rarely tried? Strawberry bread! You need 2 cups of over-ripening strawberries, 3 ⅛ cups of all-purpose flour, 2 cups of sugar and a tablespoon of cinnamon, a teaspoon each of salt and baking soda, 4 eggs, and 1 ¼ cups vegetable oil. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and butter and flour two 9×5 loaf pans. Slice the strawberries and sprinkle a little sugar on them, then combine all the dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Work the eggs and oil in with the strawberries, then combine the two bowls. Divide the batter into two pans, then bake for about 50 minutes.
Meats. Check older meats for smell and growth – they’re fine if they pass the test. Chili was invented for spoiled meats, and hot spices and sauces are staples in areas close to the equator where before the days of refrigeration, it was too hot to keep good for long.
Chili isn’t a cheap dish, but it can be if you garden and you’re making it with the goal of salvaging spoiled meat. You’ll want 2 pounds of ground beef, 2 onions, 4 garlic cloves, 2 tablespoons chili powder, 2 teaspoons each of salt and oregano, 60 ounces of stewed tomatoes and 15 ounces of tomato sauce (these can be made or purchased canned), and 15 ounces of cooked kidney beans (also canned or fresh). The beef, onion, and garlic should be stewed over medium heat in a large stockpot. The other ingredients except beans are worked in once the meat is browned. Bring to a boil then simmer, stirring for an hour. Then add beans.
Eggs. Eggs have many uses and are a great meat substitute in dishes and in your diet, so if you need to consume them quickly, it shouldn’t be hard. If the egg floats in water, it’s gone bad and it isn’t safe for human consumption. But you can give them to pets for a great protein source, use the shell for a calcium supplement, or make plant food! Eggs that are about to go bad can be added to almost anything. We hard boil them before they spoil, adding a few days of life, and add them to salads and soups. A couple of days of omelettes, egg salad sandwiches, or cookies aren’t a bad break either. If you have a lot of eggs about to go bad, make it a baking day!
Food waste is a global economic, nutritional, and environmental problem that isn’t getting any better, but we can make a difference from our own kitchens. There are tons of ways to lessen our decomposing garbage by extending the life of the food products in our homes and consuming or purchasing them responsibly. How are you going to be more waste-savvy in your kitchen?
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2018). Food loss and food waste.