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Meet Me At The Table: Reducing Food Waste

Meet Me At The Table: Reducing Food Waste

The holidays are quickly approaching and if your family is anything like ours, food is the centerpiece to your festive celebrations. There seems no better time to aim a spotlight at food waste. By some estimates, nearly half of the food grown, processed and transported in the U.S. goes to waste. (https://www.feedingamerica.org/our-work/our-approach/reduce-food-waste)

I have been blessed with abundant food my entire life. Living on a farm and growing our own vegetables, we grew up with hands-on experience in how much work it took to produce food. Planting, weeding, tilling, harvesting, and preserving all those veggies was back-breaking work. We fed and watered our livestock and chickens every morning and every evening – 365 days a year. So although we never had to wonder where our next meal would come from, we learned a deep respect for food and the hard work it took to produce it. It was ingrained in me from birth – do not waste food.

Gaining Awareness

Food is wasted in many forms. It’s the food left on our plates when we are full. It’s the head of lettuce long forgotten on the bottom drawer of the refrigerator. It’s the apple that’s not perfectly shaped or the tomato that has a blemish on its skin. It’s the food that’s gone past its Best-By date.

It is encouraging to see the saving food movement continuing to gain steam in our country. Food waste is now taking center stage across many arenas and large food companies are leading the way. As part of Kroger’s #ZeroWasteZeroHunger focus, they recently announced a new brand for their stores. In 2019 they will debut Peculiar Picks. This brand is focused on decreasing waste of ugly produce. Those fruit or vegetables that are slightly imperfect, yet still perfectly good to eat and part of an estimated 6 billion pounds of unused produce in our country.

My family will attest, sometimes begrudgingly to the fact, I am a food rescue geek. Food saving is a challenge. What can last night’s leftover turkey be turned in to? Not all attempts are popular in my house, but many are. Do a Google search on ways to use leftover anything. You’ll be amazed at how many results you get.

If saving food isn’t something you’ve given much thought to, it’s never too late to gain awareness. Every small step contributes to less waste of resources and less waste in our landfills. Start simple, buy less food – food saving and money saving. Learn what the Best-By dates really mean on food. They are not expiration dates. Most of the time, depending upon the type of food, the item is good for long after that date. Most vinegar based foods, pickles, ketchup, mustard, are good nearly indefinitely.

Always Remember the Freezer is Your Friend

Nearly everything can be frozen. Those berries that are just about to go bad in your refrigerator, give them a quick rinse and toss them in the freezer. They’ll taste great in a smoothie in the middle of winter when berries are hard to find. Little bits of this and that, leftover veggies, freeze them all together to add later to a vegetable soup or a stew that you cook up for your family on a cold, snowy day. That ground beef intended for the dinner you instead ate out, freeze it. Even that leftover green bean casserole can be frozen. It makes a great addition to a cream-based soup.

Other Food Saving Hacks

Here’s a food saving hack we use often in our house: the French fries that come home in the doggie bag but never get eaten, chop them up and fry in some bacon grease for quick and tasty potatoes with your breakfast. Full disclosure -Yes, I do save all bacon grease and use it all the time in all sorts of ways. No, it’s not as bad for us as we are lead to believe. That’s a topic for next time. Has milk been in the fridge awhile? Freeze it in small containers for when you need just a little bit like in mashed potatoes.

Bananas brown quickly. One thing I recently noticed, organic bananas take longer to ripen. So if you won’t be using them right away, you might want to spend a few extra pennies for the organic. We all know not to put bananas in the refrigerator because they will brown. However, I’ve found that once they are ripe, putting them in the refrigerator will slow down further ripening. The skin will darken but the banana inside is good. Of course, they can be frozen for bread. I freeze them skin and all.

Reducing food waste is vital to our world. Water is a precious resource that is wasted when food is wasted. Meat not eaten is an animal’s life wasted. Remembering this fuels my passion to find even more ways to save food and share that information with as many people as will listen. If we could all make just small adjustments in our own lives, our efforts together will make a significant impact.

Meet Me at The Table: Food is Tradition, Art, and Love

Meet Me at The Table: Food is Tradition, Art, and Love

Remembering

Close your eyes and imagine the food of your childhood, deeply breathe in that remembered scent, more importantly that feeling. Perhaps it’s the sweet smell of an apple pie baking or the slow cooking of a marinara sauce.

Picture the moment when you throw open the door on a cold crisp day to be blasted by the warm scent of a turkey roasting. For some of us it may be the smell of chicken soup being heated up from a can, the feeling is no different; your loved one caring for you and nourishing you with food is such a beautiful, meaningful act.

Reflecting

Bringing it all to the table is such a fitting topic for this time of year, as we gather around with our loved ones and reflect on what we are grateful for, surrounded by the beautiful bounty of the season.

What an important ritual of reflection and gratitude. I have so very much to be grateful for; I’ve been welcomed to sit at many lively kitchen tables in my life, and as luck would have it, all over the globe. I’ve gobbled down steaming piles of dumplings on the streets of Taiwan, dined on delicious kangaroo in Australia, and sat down to a feast of pork and veggies I helped harvest in Costa Rica.

Often times I did not speak the same language as the host, and I am so grateful to those folks who welcomed me to their table as a weary, and at times confused, traveler.

Sharing

One misty humid day in Taiwan a group of us decided to hop on our motorcycles and journey up into the crisp mountains for a day of hiking to waterfalls. The further and higher we hiked into the mist, the harder the rain began to fall, and soon we transitioned from sweaty to shivery. I was downright miserable, hungry, and tired. We finally reached our destination where I laid down on a rock in total exhaustion and stared at this unbelievable waterfall surrounded by slippery green rocks and lush tropical foliage.

I sat up and as I did, an old man under a tent caught my eye, he was waving me over to him. His radiant smile was welcoming, and I sat under his tent on a log he had gathered from the forest. He was boiling a pot of tea, the warmth instantly seeped into my body. He attempted to chat with me in Mandarin Chinese, and I could simply thank him and tell him where I was from; my Mandarin isn’t great. I’m sure he quickly realized from my accent and horrible pronunciation that our conversation wouldn’t go much further. He simply smiled and proceeded to pour me a small cup of tea, I held the tiny warm cup in my hand smelling the scents of a completely new and fascinating liquid; hints of pine and grassy sweetness with a complex roasted flavor.

As I gulped it down I felt my whole body warm. I looked over to the man and saw him gingerly sipping his tea, I looked down at my cup, and together we laughed as I realized my mistake in gulping it down. He poured me another and we had a wonderful conversation that did not involve words, just the beautiful act of sharing.

Growing

I’ve had the good fortune to work for the Mid-Ohio Foodbank, I spent the summer growing fresh organic vegetables for those in need. My job was to run a pay-what-you-can farm stand; and what an honor it was to spend a day in the sun and fresh air picking and tending to vegetables and giving away fresh food in the evenings.

Those who came to the farm stand told me their stories, days spent with little to no fresh food on the table or no food at all. One young participant in particular stands out to me, this person had come to work days on the farm as a volunteer. He had brought his whole family back to the farm for the evening farm stand and proudly named each vegetable and how we had harvested it.  He shared recipes he had learned and some he himself had created, all while helping me to pass out items to elderly participants that need help moving things to their cars.

His mom then spoke to me of their families’ hardships and how the farm had changed this young person’s life. He had started drying herbs from the farm to make dried basil to put on top of their spaghetti and eagerly wanted to plant a garden at their home. With tears in her eyes she told me we had changed her son’s life, and hers.

Cooking

The world is full of generous souls who have welcomed me to their countries, kitchens, and warm tents; I am forever grateful to those who have supported me on my journey.

This holiday season I encourage you to open your heart in your own way: cook a meal for an elderly neighbor, donate or volunteer at a Foodbank, or simply pay it forward by buying a stranger a cup of coffee.

Sit still in a quiet place and reflect on your own personal bounty, practice gratitude. Food brings us all to the table, it crosses all borders and languages; food is tradition, art, and love in its own way timeless.