I’d hardly call myself an environmentalist but I really, really, really hate waste. It seems so, so …. unnecessary. When I come across wilted lettuce the crisper, or moldy cheese in the dairy drawer, I feel so incredibly guilty. Self-loathing and knots in my stomach also goes along with it. I’m not going to preach, but we are so lucky/fortunate/blessed to live where we live with the resources we have. So many around the world go without. To me, wasting feels like the ultimate act of ungratefulness.
In this post, I’m focusing on ways to reduce waste (whether it be food, energy, whatever) and increase resourcefulness. Usually it results in saving money … and maybe that money could be put to a good cause. I promise I won’t have you dumpster diving or hoarding. I’m just not that extreme. But I think we do have a responsibility to be good stewards of our resources, and I’ll give suggestions on ways to do this.
To get started, I’m going to give you three quick and dirty tips (actually, one of them literally is dirty).
Quick Tip #1 – Composting
What I’ve come to accept is that, unfortunately, some amount of food waste is unavoidable. Fortunately, even rotten food (specific rotten foods, I’ll elaborate shortly) can serve another productive purpose: compost!
I read a study that estimated that 30% of the waste that ends up in landfills is actually compostable material. Compost improves soil composition making for better produce/crops and healthier plants, shrubs and trees. Composting is super easy and there’s several ways to do it, depending on your living situation. For me, trench composting works best. This complicated process involves digging a hole, putting compostable food waste in it and covering it with dirt. Got that? Hope you took notes!
Other methods I’ve used over the years include bin composting and vermicomposting (you know, worms!). Here’s a listing of foods you can safely compost:
– Fruit and veggie scraps (e.g. cores, peels, etc)
– Coffee grinds and tea bags
– Egg shells (crush them first)
– Most bread products
– Paper products and cardboard (unwaxed)
Composting probably deserves a blog post of its own (I’ll do one eventually), but I hope this Quick Tip has piqued your interest enough to encourage you to learn more.
Quick Tip #2 – Homemade Stocks and Broths
I’d say we go through at least a couple rotisserie chickens a month. They’re so versatile and perfect for quick weeknight dinners. I’m sure you usually just chuck the chicken carcass (carcass…such a gross word) when you’re done with it. But did you know that you can get a little bit more use out of it? Many would argue that wasting animal proteins is unethical…so ethically, the next time you buy a rotisserie chicken, you have to make this stock. I kid, I kid. But hopefully you get the idea.
Chicken stock is one of the easiest things to make and is an ingredient in so many great recipes (see Shrimp & Grits). It’s also one of those things that I used to never have when I needed it. Chicken stock is so simple to make, and when done can be stored in the freezer for months.
Here’s how I do it. When I’m done with the rotisserie chicken (or roast chicken), I throw the remains (that sounds better than “carcass”, right?) into a large stockpot. I dig through the crisper to find a couple of carrots that are on their way out, chop off a few leafy tops of celery stalks (saving the more edible celery stalks for other purposes). I’ll also usually come across one or two onion halves leftover from previous meals. I’ll throw those in with the skins on … Ina Garten says that the onion skins give your stock color and she wouldn’t tell a lie. Then I’ll throw in a clove or two of garlic (if I have it), some thyme, a couple bay leaves and some kosher salt and pepper. I’ll bring it to a simmer and let it go for an hour or two, let it cool to room temp, and then strain out the chicken and veggie pieces. Pour the stock into containers, or even freezer bags, and freeze for up to six months. One rotisserie chicken will usually yield me at least 8 cups, which is enough for a few recipes.
Quick Tip #3 – Cooking Efficiently
I’m a big fan of menu planning and can tell you firsthand that menu planning reduces waste and, as a result, saves money. There are a ton of blogs out there with great ideas and approaches to menu planning, so I’m going to leave that topic to the experts. I’m taking a different angle. I’m talking about cooking efficiently, or, more specifically, using less energy when cooking. May seem like a no-brainer, but most people don’t plan their menus based on utilizing common cooking methods and temperatures. To explain, let me tell you how I used to do things, compared to how I do them now. In the old days, if steak, potatoes and vegetables were on the menu, we’d fire up the grill for the steaks, turn on the oven for the baked potatoes and get a burner on the oven going to sauté the veggies. New way: fire up grill, throw potatoes on first, then steaks, then veggies. Alternatively, if I’m planning on making enchiladas and know I’ll need the oven on at 350, I’ll roast some veggies at the same temperature to round out the meal. Using energy wisely is good for the planet, and good for your wallet.
More next time!