It is estimated that we Americans waste 30%-40% of the food we buy. That’s the equivalent of the 219 pounds of groceries that each of us throw in the trash each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. And two-thirds of that food is a fruit, vegetable or dairy product that ends up in landfill instead of nourishing the body with essential nutrients.
What can we do when vegetables spoil before we eat them? Eat them before they spoil… Duh.
Many foods can also be frozen for future use. I really don’t like ripe bananas. So I froze them, three in a bag, and they’re ready for the next batch of banana bread. Onions and dangling celery can also be chopped and frozen for use in soups and other dishes.
We call cleaning meals out of the fridge “clumps.” Last week, for example, I sliced and sliced the wonderful tomatoes and zucchini that our esteemed neighbors left on the balcony. I cooked them with half an onion left and hulled kernels of the last sweet corn we got from our farmer friend. Oh, and the little trupur of leftover meat and green chile from my enchilda a few days ago? This went into the mix, too. A few spices to boot, and we had a meal that took me straight back to my New Mexican roots.
Some leftovers can be a challenge. I used to grumble every time I opened an entire can of tomato paste when a recipe called for just one tablespoon. I never seemed to use the rest before it developed into a creepy mould.
Then I learned that leftover tomato paste can be frozen in individual portions with the help of plastic wrap and a freeze-proof bowl. Now I just want to remember that it’s in the freezer.
On a larger scale, many organizations retrieve fresh, edible foods no longer needed by restaurants, grocery stores, and other food establishments and distribute them to people in need.
Local food banks such as feedamerica.org or foodbanking.org, as well as programs such as Food Rescue US (foodrescue.us), use volunteers to redistribute surplus food to food insecure people on a daily basis. This is encouraging.
However, no one is perfect. That day, I found a missing gem in the back of the fridge which had obviously been hidden for a very long time. In this case, the old adage still holds true: If you have a doubt, get rid of it.
Barbara Intermel is a registered dietitian and syndicated columnist. She is the author of Basic Nutrition Queen: The Uncomplicated Science of Eating. Email her at [email protected]