Change Maker: Food for Thought

How to waste less of it at home, and help feed the hun­gry, too.

Martha Stewart Living - - Contents - TEXT BY SARAH ENGLER

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.

WHEN DANA GUNDERS, a sci­en­tist for­merly with the Nat­u­ral Re­sources De­fense Coun­cil, was work­ing on a sus­tain­able-agri­cul­ture project in 2012, she made a mind-blow­ing dis­cov­ery: 40 per­cent of the food in the U.S. went un­eaten, and waste from food made up 21 per­cent of all land­fill trash. “Our whole cul­ture had be­come very numb to how much food was be­ing thrown out,” she says. Five years later she re­leased an­other re­port, which found that food rem­nants emit meth­ane as they de­com­pose, gen­er­at­ing the same amount of green­house gases as 37 mil­lion cars an­nu­ally.

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. (The U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture says 12.3 per­cent of Amer­i­can house­holds st rug­gled to put enough food on the ta­ble at some point in 2016.) You can help, too, by shop­ping and cook­ing mind­fully, shar­ing the bounty, and heed­ing the ad­vice of Gunders and other lead­ing ad­vo­cates.

At Home

BE STRATE­GIC (AND RE­AL­IS­TIC) AT THE STORE You prob­a­bly don’t need to make a big meal ev­ery evening. Have some “lazy nights,” says Gunders, who also wrote Waste Free Kitchen

Hand­book (Chron­i­cle, 2015) and is now a food­waste-re­duc­tion ad­vi­sor at her San Fran­cisco com­pany, Next Course. “I never plan more than three meals a week, be­cause I know that be­tween kids, work, and ev­ery­thing else, there will be some nights where it’s just not hap­pen­ing.” For those din­ners, she’ll rely on left­overs or take­out. She rec­om­mends choos­ing recipes with over­lap­ping in­gre­di­ents, so you’re not st uck with, say, a bunch of par­tially used herbs. And be­fore you even start your list, look in the fridge, freezer, and pantry to de­sign a meal around what you al­ready have. Got eggs, cheese, and as­sorted greens in the crisp er? Make a frit­tata. An onion, a few car­rots, rice, and frozen peas? Add pro­tein for fried rice.

BUY UGLY FRUIT “Food af­fect s all five senses when we con­sume it, but we of­ten pur­chase it based on one cri­te­rion: sight,” says Thomas McQuil­lan, vice pres­i­dent of strat­egy, cul­ture,

and sus­tain­abil­ity at Bal­dor Spe­cialty Foods, in New York City, who suc­cess­fully turned the dist rib­u­tor zero–or­ganic-waste in 2016. In­stead of search­ing for the st raight­est car­rot, pick a slightly im­per­fect­look­ing—but per­fect ly tast y—one that might wind up in the dump­ster. “Ask your­self, ‘When I cut it up and taste it, does that scar af­fect the fla­vor?’” McQuil­lan says. Bet­ter yet, look into sign­ing up for an Im­per­fect Pro­duce sub­scrip­tion box ( im­per­fect pro­duce.com). The San Fran­cisco–based com­pany buys fruits and vegeta­bles that don’t meet gro­cery beauty st an­dards di­rect ly from grow­ers in many U. S. re­gions who would oth­er­wise toss them, and passes on the big sav­ings: You pay up to 50 per­cent less than you would at the store. 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 for a week or two, says Gunders. 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 st raight in the toaster. EAT MORE OF THE PLANT In 2015, chef Dan Bar­ber rein­vented his award-win­ning farm-to-ta­ble restau­rant Blue Hill, in New York City, as a pop-up called WastED, which turned over­looked by-prod­uct s of our food sys­tem into delect able and art­ful dishes. “Do­ing Wast ED def­i­nitely forced us to think more cre­atively, both in the field and in the kitchen,” he says. Con­sider broc­coli st alks: “They re­ally are the most de­li­cious part, and usu­ally just get tossed in the trash.” He likes to blanch them, then top them with herbs and bread­crumbs. Also great, he says, 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’s go­ing to ac­ti­vate real change.” McQuil­lan, who sup­plied car­rot peels and cel­ery tops to Wast ED, makes gratins from yam peels and mixes lemony kiwi skins and pep­pery radish tops into sal­ads. For more ideas, check out the James Beard Foun­da­tion’s new cook­book, Waste Not (Riz­zoli).

WAKE UP WILTED VEG­GIES “I re­vive greens that are start­ing to get tired in a bath of ice wa­ter,” McQuil­lan says. Re­move their roots and sub­merge them for about 15 min­utes. Then drain, pat with a towel, and eat im­me­di­ately. (If they’re st ill too limp, he says, sauté them in hot oil with gar­lic.) The cold plunge works for root vegeta­bles, too. “Cut a small part off the bot­toms and st ick them in an ice bath, halfway up. The roots ab­sorb the wa­ter very quickly, and you’ll see them come right back to life!”

In Your Com­mu­nity

SHARE WHAT YOU GROW “Across Amer­ica, home and com­mu­nity gar­den­ers pro­duce enough ex­cess food to feed 28 mil­lion peo­ple,” says Gary Op­pen­heimer, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor and founder of Am­ple­har­vest.org. The site list s more than 8,300 pantries—span­ning all 50 st ates—to help get fresh, nu­tri­tious pro­duce to those who can re­ally use it. The or­ga­ni­za­tion con­nect s back­yard gar­den­ers to nearby food pantries that will gladly take un­wanted crops and dis­trib­ute them to fam­i­lies in need. DO­NATE MONEY TO FOOD DRIVES In­stead of buy­ing out the canned-soup aisle, try writ­ing a check. “Money goes 10 times fur­ther than do­nat­ing food,” says Op­pen­heimer. He ex­plains that lo­cal food pantries stock up on non­per­ish­able items from large re­gional ware­houses for 10 cents on the dol­lar. So why give $10 worth of pack­aged items at re­tail cost, when you can give the pantry $10 to pur­chase the equiv­a­lent of $100 from a food bank? Even bet­ter, the pantry can se­lect items its com­mu­nity needs most. BE­COME A MUCH-AP­PRE­CI­ATED MIDDLEMAN Leah Lizarondo, CEO and co­founder of 412 Food Res­cue, built an en­tire dig­i­tal net­work that al­lows vol­un­teers in Pitts­burgh (and, if all goes ac­cord­ing to plan, 20 other cities by 2020) to shut­tle sur­plus food from re­tail­ers to non­prof­its in need. Since launch­ing in 2015, the or­ga­ni­za­tion has redi­rected 4 mil­lion pounds of food from land­fills. You can do this in your area on a smaller scale: Of­fer to pick up un­wanted items from your gro­cer or baker once a week, then de­liver them to your lo­cal church or non­profit.

FIND A LO­CAL FOOD- SCRAP COL­LEC­TION SITE Com­post ing at home is easy to do; learn how at marthastew­art.com/com­post. 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. If no such op­por­tu­nity yet ex­ist s in your town, or­ga­nize neigh­bors to make it hap­pen. Ask nearby farm­ers if they’ll part­ner up, or push your depart­ment of pub­lic works or waste man­age­ment to set up a curb­side col­lect ion pro­gram. “We can come up with all the ex­cuses as to why we can’t com­post,” McQuil­lan says. “We need to come up with rea­sons why we can.”

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