“Food waste is a serious issue!” was the first line of a blog I wrote in January 2019. Fast forward to 2022 and we’re still talking about eliminating food waste, but what are we DOING about it? Even with my “don’t toss food” upbringing, I admit that my refrigerator cleaning on January 2 resulted in tossing a few past due dairy items and leftovers. So, how do we ring out the old habits and zero in on food waste in 2022?
Perhaps, one of the best strategies is to be mindful not to waste and make a plan, starting with a new excellent guide, Zero Waste Cooking For Dummies, by RDN colleague and internationally recognized author Rosanne Rust.
Rosanne has done a masterful job of creating a kitchen inventory, grocery lists and meal plans that automatically focus on preventing waste and turning leftovers into culinary delights. Serving as the technical editor for this book, I was delighted to see how Rosanne positioned food waste as part of the sustainability story, providing sound science on how food is grown and how we, as consumers, can be part of the solution in reducing our impact on the climate.
The Personal Commitment
With the knowledge that approximately 30 to 40% of the food produced in this country goes uneaten, and the fact that food waste would be the third largest Greenhouse Gas emitter behind China and slightly behind the U.S. if it were a country,1 Rosanne was motivated to take a serious look at her own food waste journey. Even though she was raised by parents who did not waste food and passed along that value to her, Rosanne knew there was more that could be done. As she stated “I have always been conscientious of food waste and tried to prevent it at home, even though there were certainly times when I didn’t get around to eating the restaurant leftovers, or I overcooked and didn’t plan for the leftovers. While I can’t control all environmental inputs, throwing less food away IS something I could do.”
With several excellent disease-specific practical cookbooks to her credit, Rosanne decided to “switch gears” and use her same approach to tackle food waste. With the current economic situation and the pandemic impact on many people’s livelihoods, Rosanne stated it was a “good time to encourage less food waste and help people do more with their groceries.” She continues: “I hope that passing along some of the kitchen waste tips I grew up with as well as my own ideas to revitalize leftovers can help people learn to shop wisely, handle the food they have on hand better, store foods to last longer, but still eat well.”
Learning to Love Leftovers
When it comes to leftovers, there seems to be two distinct “camps.” You either love them or hate them — there’s no in between. While my husband and I fall into the “love them” camp and can eat the same thing reheated with minor modifications more than one time, Rosanne says that is not the case for her family. “My family are those people” (when it comes to a dislike of leftovers) she says. “Perhaps it’s the repetition of eating the same thing two days in a row or having a ‘bad leftovers’ experience during childhood” that contributes to this “no leftover” mantra.
What she did learn though is that her family will eat leftovers when they are turned into something else. “When I turn the leftover into something new, it’s better received.” Here are a few of the many tips Rosanne provides in her book designed to create “leftover love”:
- If you have leftover roast, vegetables and potatoes, instead of just reheating them on a plate, make a cream sauce or gravy, add the roast and vegetables, then top with the mashed potatoes and brown in the oven to create a new Shepard’s pie type dish.
- Make any leftover into a taco and add salsa, chopped peppers or tomatoes, and a chipotle or taco sauce.
- Turn stale bread into French toast.
- Create a dip by chopping leftover cooked vegetables, adding some cream cheese and baking it for 15-20 minutes to enjoy with crackers or toasted bread.
The Produce Scenario: Preserve Not Perish
Using a variety of fresh and canned fruits and vegetables is one way to reduce food waste when it comes to produce. However, when buying fresh produce, it’s important to be intentional about their use as these perishable items are at the top of the wasted food list, Rosanne notes. She recommends paying attention to what’s on your counter or in your refrigerator and preparing those veggies first.
Rosanne also suggests snacking on fruits and vegetables daily, freezing produce if you can’t use it immediately, or finding new ways to use “wrinkled” grapes or tomatoes such as roasting them.
From my perspective, I’ve never found a vegetable that I couldn’t roast. Roasting cherry tomatoes makes a great side dish or I freeze to add to pasta or soups, and I never let a banana go to waste. If a banana is too ripe for your preferred taste, just pop into the freezer as is. Frozen bananas make baking banana bread or making smoothies an easy task.
Sustainability Starts at Home
The environmental impact of what we eat is often the subject of conversations and controversies. Perhaps, when viewed realistically, it’s not what we eat but rather what we waste! We can no longer point fingers at others in the food value chain while we toss food in our garbage. In 2022, it’s our turn as consumers to focus on our “recipe for saving the planet.” Zero Waste Cooking for Dummies is a good place to start. Using her recipe development skills and knowledge of the food system, Rosanne Rust has created an easy-to-use guide that provides the motivation for all of us to view leftovers with “love” and leave no food behind. Congratulations Rosanne on helping us “ring in the new without tossing the food.”
1. Food Waste FAQs, U.S. Department of Agriculture
Zero Waste Cooking for Dummies (pre-order on Amazon)
Disclaimer: As technical editor of Zero Waste Cooking for Dummies, I did receive an honorarium without obligation for any promotion from the publisher or author. No sponsorship or financial in kind was received for this blog. I just really liked the book!