December 2018




    As we enter the season of endless hors d’oeuvres and multicourse meals, consider this not-so-festive fact: Nearly half of the food in this country winds up in landfills.  But with a few simple habits from savvy experts, you can use what you have, and help get more on the plates of those who need it.


    Based upon a sustainable-agricultural project in 2012, 40% of the food in the US went uneaten and waste from food made up 21% of all landfill trash.  We have become numb to how much food we’re throwing out.  Also, food remnants emit methane as they decompose, annually generating the same amount of greenhouse gases as 37 million cars.  Fortunately, innovative retailers, chefs, and community organizers have found creative ways to waste less food, not to mention the water, energy, hard work and passion that go into producing it, and to divert those nutritious ingredients to the people who need them.  You can help, too, by shopping and cooking mindfully, sharing the bounty, and heeding the advice of the experts.


    Be strategic (and realistic) at the store.  You probably don’t need to make a big meal every evening.  Have some lazy nights.  Choose recipes with some overlapping ingredients so you can use items for more than one meal.  And before you even start your grocery list, look in the fridge, freezer and pantry to design meals around what you already have. 

    Buy ugly fruit.  Food affects all five senses when we consume it, but we often purchase it based on one criterion: sight.   Instead of searching for the straightest carrots, pick a slightly imperfect-looking, but perfectly tasty, on that might wind up in the dumpster.    When you cut it up and taste it, does that scar affect the flavor? 

    Freeze before you leave.  Pop hard cheese, bread and eggs into the freezer when you go on vacation.  It’s a magic time-stopper for ingredients that might go bad while you’re away.   Scramble the raw eggs and shred the cheese; both can be stored in freezer bags and later defrosted in the fridge.  And slice the bread so it can go straight into the toaster.

    Eat more of the plant.   Consider broccoli stalks.  They are really the most delicious past, and usually just get tossed in the trash.  Also great are broccoli leaves, which are large, like collards.  If you shop at a farmers’ market, ask one of the growers to harvest them.  That’s the type of conversation that is going to instigate real change.  For more ideas, check out the James Beard Foundation’s new cookbook, Waste Not (Rizzoli).

    Wake up wilted vegetables.  Revive greens that are starting to get tired in a bath of ice water.  Remove roots and submerge for about 15 minutes.  Then drain, pat with a towel, and eat immediately.  If they’re still to limp, sauté them in hot oil with garlic.  The cold plunge works for root vegetables too.  Cut a small part off the bottoms and stick in an ice bath, halfway up.  The roots very quickly absorb the water, and you’ll see them come right back to life.

    Share what you grow.  Across America, home and community gardeners produce enough excess food to feed 28 million people.   See  The site lists more than 8300 pantries, spanning all 50 states, to help get fresh, nutritious produce to those who can really use it.  The organization connects backyard gardeners to nearby food pantries that will gladly take unwanted crops and distribute them to families in need.

    Find a local food-scrap collection site.  Composting at home is easy to do.  But if you’re not ready to start, see if a community garden, park, or farmers’ market takes food scraps.  You can stockpile them in the freezer, which eliminates odors, then drop them off once a week.  We can come up with all the excuses as to why we can’t compost.  We need to come up with reasons why we can.


    **Holiday Help: About 200 million pounds of turkey alone are tossed out during December.  But we can be grateful without being wasteful. Get smart about portions.  For a huge meal with sides, you don’t need to make enough servings of mashed potatoes or stuffing to match the number of people eating. Check out the guest-imator calculator at, which lets you put in the number of diners (little, big and average eaters), the number of days of leftovers you want, and the types of dishes you’re making, then churns out the right quantities.  Enjoy!


    Sarah Engler