“What is good food and what is trash? ‘Trash’ and ‘scraps’ are ideas that people create when they decide what is in and what is out. Who made these rules?” – Mads Refslund
Nobody wants to waste food, but despite good intentions, it happens to the best of us. The good news is making a difference has never been easier.
Equipped with resources like Mads Refslund’s book Scraps, Wilt & Weeds: Turning Wasted Food Into Plenty, Dana Gunders’s Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook, and tips from Ambatalia creator Molly de Vries, we’ve compiled some of our favorite smart tricks for lessening your contribution to the $165 billion worth of food that’s wasted each year in the United States.
Overall, minimizing food and packaging waste not only benefits our personal health and pocket books, but also our land, oceans, and the people that produce our food.
At the Store:
- Bring your own bags, jars, and containers to the store or farmers market.
- Shop smart. Plan meals, use lists, and avoid impulse buys. Buy what you need and in the amount that you’re likely to consume. Keeping an eye on what you throw away over the course of a week will help you make better choices at the store.
- Invest in reusable linens to cut down on napkin and paper towel usage. Molly demonstrates creative ways to use kitchen towels to tie up produce, bread, and even wine bottles in this video series.
- Head to the bulk section for dry goods such as beans, grains, flour, pasta, and rice. You can try as little or as much or something as you want, and eliminate unnecessary packaging waste in the process.
- Learn to love ugly produce. It’s perfectly good to eat, and buying imperfect produce at the farmers’ market or grocery store helps use up food that might otherwise be tossed.
- Get to know your farmers, butchers, fish and cheesemongers, stockists, and cashiers. Be curious – and kind! Here are some sample questions to ask.
- Is your favorite milk or kombucha available in a reusable glass bottle with a deposit program? Can you reuse your egg carton each week at the farmers market?
- Before heading to the bulk section at the grocery store, speak with a cashier to obtain the tare weight (weight of an empty container) and understand any in-house rules.
- For meat and fish, inquire if regulations permit mongers to use your own reusable glass containers, instead of several layers of butcher paper. Consider asking your cheesemonger to skip the plastic wrap and use a bento bag instead.
- Take stock of your pantry at the beginning of each season and write down the items that you always strive to have on hand, in addition to more regular purchases.
- Keep a running list of “house meals” and their ingredients that your household already enjoys.
- Invest in nondisposable materials to help you stay clean and organized. Here are some of our favorite options:
- Vejibags are 100% U.S. grown and milled organic cotton bags that help keep humidity-loving vegetables like kale and carrots moist and crunchy.
- Toss the tupperware and invest in reusable stainless steel containers, linen bowl covers, or stackable stoneware storage containers.
- Bee’s Wrap is a washable, reusable, and compostable alternative to plastic wrap made by infusing organic cotton with beeswax, organic jojoba oil, and tree resin.
- Plastic water bottles are one of the easiest items to replace with something long-lasting. After learning of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Molly dedicated herself to eliminating plastic bottles from her life, many of which end up floating in our oceans.
- Learn how to keep your seasonal produce looking and tasting fresh with these helpful tips.
- Use your nose. Expiration dates are more often guidelines than hard facts. If a food looks, smells, and tastes fine, it’s most likely safe to eat. If any of these elements are off, then it’s time to compost it.
- Take stock of what’s about to expire and plan meals around those ingredients.
- The freezer is your friend. Keep a list of what’s in the freezer and when each item was frozen. Keep the list on the freezer door for easy reference.
- Designate one dinner each week where you “shop” in the pantry and fridge. Good oil and vinegar plus some other pantry basics like mustard, onions, garlic, canned tomatoes, honey, crushed chillies, and bay leaves are generally all that’s needed to turn near-wilting vegetables in the back of the fridge into a delicious meal.
- Eat your leftovers! (Labeling helps keep them from getting lost.)
- To test if eggs are still good, put them in a bowl of water. If they sink, they’re safe to eat.
- Use nearly sour milk as buttermilk to make delicious pancakes.
- Use all of your ingredients! Skins, stems, stalks, and more. Here’s one of our favorite recipes for pesto that features carrot tops.
- Make stock. Get started with a good pot. Then add water, vegetable and meat scraps, zest, rinds, and whatever else you have around.
- Preserve! Make jam, shrubs, pickles, or dried fruit and herbs.
- Donate what you won’t use. Our local gleaners will even come harvest from your backyard tree.
- Compost! We can’t. Get. Enough. Store any excess food scraps in a kitchen compost pail, crock, or bucket with a tight fitting lid.
- When preparing meals, check in with your hunger. Ask your body what it wants to eat, and how much. Reducing portion sizes is an easy way to reduce food waste.
- Split large dishes with a friend.
- Take home leftovers. Ask your favorite restaurant about their to-go materials. Are they compostable and/or recyclable? Can your server able to pack up your leftovers from dinner into your own reusable glass or stainless steel container?
- Go trayless. When eating in a cafeteria, skip the tray. It’s hard to carry more food than you can actually eat.
Ready to take your personal waste stream to the next step? Learn more with our post on how to keep your compost pile happy.