Inspired by the news that Americans waste 40% of their food, from August 22 to September 22, 2012, I wrote down all my food waste.
To do this, I simply made a note when I threw something out of what it was and how much there was of it. I only wrote down food that would have gotten eaten if it hadn’t gone bad first.
To make the list thorough, I also cleaned out my fridge during this time.
The list is below. Of course, it’s a bit embarrassing to put up how much I threw out in the past month, but I’m doing it because I highly recommend this exercise. I learned a lot about my food waste habits from this experiment, and you will too.
Also, this exercise brought out unexpected creativity in my cooking. Because I was concentrating on not wasting food, I tried new things to keep food from going bad. For example, since I had a lot of end-of-summer fruit around, I ended up drying it in my food dehydrator–apples, pears, bananas, and grapes that Mr. Savvy has been happily chomping on during work. When I tried drying some champagne grapes, the resulting raisins were too sticky. Instead of letting them go bad, I tried baking them into cookies and ended up with some of the best oatmeal cookies I’ve ever had. So the champagne grapes were saved not once, but twice, from going bad, and we ended up with awesome cookies. The month was full of little experiments like this–for another example, I made trifle with stale cake.
Lessons I Learned From Recording My Food Waste:
1. If People Give Me Food, It’s More Likely To Be Thrown Out. I entertain a lot, so people are always bringing food to my house. Over the past month, a good portion of the food that went bad–hummus, popcorn, prosciutto–was food that people gave me. If I’m not expecting to use it, I forget about it and it goes bad.
2. My Toaster Was Burning Toast. I wouldn’t have known this if it weren’t for this exercise, since it was only doing it sometimes. I’ve since lowered the heat on the toaster and eliminated the problem.
3. We’ve Been Buying Too Much Pizza. I think of pizza as one of the few leftovers we will eat, but this is apparently not true. Twice (!) we bought a pizza and didn’t eat the leftovers. It’s one thing to buy delivered pizza, it’s another thing not to eat it, so Mr. Savvy and I are buying smaller pizzas in the future.
4. I Make My Guests Salads That Are Too Big. When I have a dinner party, I make a salad that is easily twice as big as my guests will eat. I’m not sure why this is, but it’s something I have already remedied since doing this project.
5. I’m Not Using All My Produce. I haven’t worked out why this is, but it’s possible I’m simply buying/growing too much of it. The good news is that in almost every case, just part of the produce went bad. I’m good at salvaging it.
6. Laziness = Waste. Six tomatoes and almost a cup of ricotta went bad because I didn’t get around to freezing them fast enough. The tomatoes were from the garden, and I knew they needed to be frozen, yet I still let them sit there and get gross.
7. I Am Regularly Wasting Milk. Another thing I wouldn’t have realized if I hadn’t done this exercise: every time I buy a quart of milk, about 1/3 cup goes bad. That’s not enough to make cottage cheese, but it’s a pattern I need to remedy. I’m experimenting with buying organic milk, which lasts longer, and storing it in the back of the fridge, where it’s colder.
8. A Eat Me Section Really Works. I designated a section of the fridge for food that needs to be eaten first, and found it works great at getting me to use “top priority” food. It has greatly reduced how much food I throw out.
Okay, here’s the list. I also noted how I disposed of the food after our discussion on food waste hierarchy.
Food Waste From August 22-September 22, 2012:
5 pieces of pizza–garbage*
2 cups takeout soup–garbage disposal/drain (It was gross.)
1.5 pieces burnt toast–chickens*
1 bun–chickens (I could have made bread crumbs from this, but the chickens love bread.)
1 1/3 c milk–garbage disposal/drain*
7 oz ricotta–garbage disposal/drain*
1 stick butter–garbage disposal/drain (It melted and fell on the floor.)
1/2 cup zucchini–compost
4 piece lettuce–chickens
1 cup fava beans–compost
1 cup spinach–chickens
1/4 cup carrot–compost
1 bunch basil–compost (I thought this was lettuce until I pulled it out of the bin. Too late to save it.)
2 cups salad–garbage disposal/drain*
2 slices frittata–garbage
2 cups lemonade–garbage disposal/drain
1 cup chicken–garbage
2 hot dogs–garbage
Food People Gave Me:*
4 slices prosciutto–garbage
1 cup hummus–garbage
1 chunk parmesean–garbage
1 cup popcorn–garbage
* Denotes food specifically mentioned above.