The holidays are fast approaching! In addition to all the warm and fuzzy familial bonding, my favorite part about the last two months of the year is all the FOOD! My family is full of foodies and chefs, but we are as guilty of some poor habits as many Americans with regards to food. This month we will focus on food issues, including sustainable seafood, how what goes on the table affects the ocean (no matter where you live) and, of course, what can we do about it. I am excited to share recipes to support our theme and to get us ready for a holiday season that doesn’t undo all the positive impacts we’ve had as stewards all year.
Food waste is one of the first issues that comes to mind when discussing sustainability or conservation in the kitchen. It is also an issue that is easy to track on an individual level. According to the USDA, in the United States an estimated 133 billion pounds, valued at $161 billion is wasted every year—that’s equivalent of $390 per consumer! This food makes up 21% of our landfill, the largest percentage of waste (according to EPA). Where does it come from? Food is wasted at multiple levels—grocery stores throw away food that has cosmetic blemishes or is past its sell-by date, restaurants discard unused food, and consumers at home toss food for all sorts of reasons. In addition to being a waste of resources and money, wasting food has social and environmental costs. An estimated 50 million Americans do not have access to enough food (EPA). Meanwhile, the food at the dump produces methane (a greenhouse gas), takes up space, and all of the energy and resources put into making the food goes to waste.
Challenge: Empty out your compost bin (if you have one) or designate a bin for food scraps and for one week weigh all of the food waste your family produces. No cheating! Everything counts; including meat trimmings, peels, bread crusts, take-out meals, food with freezer burn that you finally get rid of, and that half glass of OJ that you pour out because you don’t have time to finish it with breakfast. You can calculate the cost of your food waste with the EPA’s Food Waste Management Cost Calculator.
Try creating a bin per family member or a bin for different types of food—meat, grain, vegetable, fruit, dairy, eggs. You may find that you are more inclined to waste certain types of food than others. According to this Scientific American article grains, which do not require much energy to produce and are therefore inexpensive, are more likely to be wasted than meat products, which often cost more.
Don’t worry! There are ways to reduce food waste at home, and there are some interesting movements in the culinary world to reduce waste as well. To waste less food here are some simple ideas to try:
1) Try to buy less. If you always have too many leftovers from a certain recipe, reduce the quantity you start out with! Or, if you make a huge batch of cookie dough, for example, freeze it and bake what you want to eat in the next couple days.
2) Get good Tupperware for the leftovers you do keep. A good container will keep out contaminants and reduce freezer burn.
3) Get creative! So your child doesn’t like the crust on their sandwich? Keep the crusts in an airtight container and the next time you need bread crumbs, throw them in the food processor.
4) Don’t be fooled by the “sell-by”/ “best by”/ “freshest before” dates. They are not regulated and do not indicate safety for consumption—food is made unsafe by contaminants, not by spoiling. Here is an interesting article from Food Safety News, if you need some convincing.
5) Become a “nose-to-tail” eater. There is a movement in the culinary world to reduce waste in cooking, which involves using every part of an animal (not just the choice cuts of meat, including organs). This may be new to the U.S. but is common practice in other cultures. For example, my grandmother loved fish heads, and the eyeball was a special treat! You don’t have to go about sucking on brains though—these “extra” bits are good for making stocks and adding flavor to other dishes.
If you are able to make one small adjustment from this list or from any of the suggestions from the links in this article, you can make a big difference for the environment and for your family’s health. Let’s start the holiday season with this resolution. Please share your recipes and ideas for some holiday cheer!
If you still have some pumpkins laying around after Halloween (that are not rotting–usually the uncarved pumpkins last a while) don’t throw them out! Try out Jodi’s pumpkin pie recipe:
Preparing your pumpkin:Remove seeds and guts! Seeds can be saved for later 🙂There are few ways you can cook down a pumpkin.I’ve always cooked mine on the stove, but then it can get watery, I might try microwaving it this time. (http://www.pickyourown.org/pumpkincooking.php)Microwave cooking- Remove the stem, and put the pumpkin into a microwaveable. You may need to cut the pumpkin further to make it fit. The fewer the number of pieces, the easier it will to scoop out the cooked pumpkin afterwards.Put a couple of inches of water in the bowl, cover it, and put in the microwave.Stovetop steaming – Place your steaming basket or grid in the bottom of a large pot. Put enough water so it won’t boil dry in 20 minutes, and yet is not so high that the pumpkin is touching the water level. You may need to add more water during the cooking. Add the pumpkin prepared in step 3, and get the steamer going. The cooking time is only between 8 and 12 minutes, depending on the range (gas or electric), and the pumpkin literally falls off the skin.Pressure cooker – Place your grid in the bottom of the pressure cooker. If your pressure cooker came with directions, follow those for pumpkin and/or winter squash, like butternut squash. If, like most people, you’ve long since lost the directions, try this: Add enough water to just touch the bottom of the grid or shelf that you will place the pumpkin on. Add the pumpkin prepared in step 3, put the lid with the gasket, the weight and anything else your cooker requires in place, and turn the heat on high. Once it starts hissing, turn it to medium or medium high. The cooking time should only be about 10 minutes, and the pumpkin should literally fall out of its skin.Oven – You can also bake the prepared pumpkin in the oven, just like a butternut squash. This method takes the longest. Just put the prepared pumpkin in an ovenproof container (with a lid), add about 3 cups of water to help prevent it from drying out and pop it in an 350 F (200 C) oven. It normally takes about 45 minutes to an hour; just test it periodically by sticking it with a fork to see if it is soft!Once the pumpkin is soft, you can remove the skin and discard.After the pumpkin is cooked down, I blend it. Pumpkin can be stringy so it’s really important to blend it. The pumpkin can also be very watery, so drain any extra water from the blended pumpkin. You can always let it sit 30 minutes to let the water separate.Once all of this is done, I usually bag and freeze 3 cups of pumpkin for later use. Typically a pumpkin will make more than 3 cups, so measure multiple bags so later you have easy pumpkin access.