Friday's Food For Thought - The Environmental and Humanitarian Issue of Food Waste

(Warning: This is a two-cup of tea or coffee post..)

(The photos, of course, are completely gratuitous!)

It is estimated that one third of all the food produced in the world is wasted.    

Sadly, this amount would greatly diminish the world's hunger problems.  And In addition to the humanitarian implications, food waste also contributes to ecological problems both in terms of the physical presence of food products in our landfills and also the energy wasted in growing, harvesting, packaging and transporting food that is never eaten.

What to do with food scraps?

The book, Garbology, cites a study "The Garbage Project" where core samples were taken deep into several landfills throughout the U.S. only to find that food waste sits within the landfill and never decomposes.  For example, carrot tops and onion skins were still intact after 20 years, and Kaiser rolls had transformed into hardened, mummified versions of themselves.  So, throwing food scraps into the trash should never be an option.  Items we see as "biodegradable" do not biodegrade in trash piles.   (And Kaiser rolls make great treats for the birds!)

Luckily, some municipalities have begun composting services, with special containers provided for the disposal of food waste and biodegradables.  Unfortunately, many of us do not have access to this service.  Composting can still be done on an individual level... either by having an outdoor pile or bin, or even a counter-top composting bin.

If you have a yard and choose to have a compost pile, you will need to keep it moist and keep it covered with a tarp.  A compost pile works best if you have not only food scraps, but also grass clippings and dry leaves.  Somewhere between several months and two years, you will end up with rich, brown, soil-like compost that can be spread over all of your gardens.  This type of composting does require a bit of commitment, but the end result is worth it.

Because of the large amount of animal manure that we produce, we do large-scale composting here on the farm.  Because of this, we are able to compost anything edible.  We have the luxury of time and space to accomplish this task.  I might add, that there is no odor coming from our compost piles.

I have read, however, that you can also simply dig your scraps into your gardens or flower beds by digging a channel about 10 inches down and burying your scraps in the earth.  Earthworms will do the job of turning these food scraps to compost over time.  This is a more viable solution for those who do not make a lot of waste or do not have the ability start a compost pile.

Perhaps the best solution for all of us is to strive to produce less waste.

Over the years I have learned a few tricks to help reduce food-scrap-waste.  Perhaps the best of these is to keep a bag, or container in your freezer that you throw all of your vegetable scraps into.  I have saved onion skins, potato peels, carrot tops and peels (leaves and stems as well), pepper tops,  scraps of herbs, broccoli and cauliflower stems, etc.   After I have accumulated a good quantity and variety, I simply put all of it in a large soup kettle filled with water and some salt and pepper and allow the mixture to simmer.... the longer, the better.  After all of the vegetables have cooked down, strain off the liquid and use it as stock for soups.  If you are not going to make a soup in the next day or two, the liquid can be frozen.  What is left of the vegetables can be easily composted at this point.  Not only have you squeezed out every bit of nutrition from those vegetables, but you have saved having to buy stock at the grocery store... and reduced your waste (not having a can or carton to discard from store-bought stock.)

Here on the farm, what little we don't eat is either given to the chickens to finish, or composted.  Back in the days (pre-pandemic) when we would occasionally eat in a restaurant, we would always clean our plates into a doggy bag to bring home for the chickens.  Backyard chickens are a great way to reduce food waste!

I have talked before about the fact that we buy our poultry from a local "grass-fed" farm.  Although the price of a whole chicken raised this way is greater than what you can purchase in the grocery store, we are committed to buying local, grass fed and humanely raised meats.  To offset the price of buying this type of chicken, I have learned to use a whole chicken very efficiently.  I typically cook the entire chicken on top of the stove - using the resulting chicken stock and  the dark meat for soup, while removing the breast meat to use in salad, sandwiches,  stir fry, or other recipes.  A whole chicken can provide us with an entire week's worth of meals... and in the end, a lot of money saved.  A pot of soup can easily be divided into meal-sized portions and frozen for consuming at a later date. Buying a whole chicken is more economical than buying chicken parts; and with a little practice, a whole chicken can easily be divided into parts that can then be used in different meals.

Chicken bones can be composted once they are cooked, so if you are de-boning your chicken, cook the remaining carcass down for broth, and compost your bones.  We bury our bones deeply so that the dogs cannot eat them.

Improper storage of produce items, in particular,  can lead to household food waste.  Here are some hints for extending the life of some produce items:

1.  Store tomatoes and cucumbers on the counter at room temperature.

2.  If you buy bananas, (which, because they are not produced in this country are an item you might want to consider not buying in order to reduce your food's carbon footprint.).. break the bunch apart and store some on the counter top for immediate consumption and some in the refrigerator to slow ripening.  Those that over-ripen can be tossed, as is, in the freezer to use in baking.

3.  To extend the life of your berries, rinse them in a 1 to 3 part vinegar/water solution to kill mold spores. Then dry the berries before refrigerating.  Berries that are nearing the end of their peak freshness can be used in smoothies, or cooked as small-batch jams that can then be stored for months in the refrigerator... saving money on jams and reducing container waste.

4.  Be aware that there are certain fruits and vegetables which give off a gas that potentiates the ripeness of other fruits and vegetables.  I.e.: don't store apples and oranges, or onions and potatoes together.  The onions will make the potatoes rot more quickly.  If your onions are starting to grow tops, simply remove the top, chop the onion and throw it into the freezer for later use.  

5.  Keep an eye on the vegetables in your crisper.  If they are starting to wilt, throw them into the freezer for later use in soups, stews, and other recipes. 

6.  Ugly-looking oranges can still be used for fresh-squeezed juice - as can other citrus.  Simply squeeze the fruit and freeze in small portions (ice cube trays make a good sized portion for lemon and lime juice), then thaw for later use.

Understanding Labeling

It is my opinion that food waste became even more prevalent when the food industry began putting "use-by" labels on foods.  These labels are often mis-leading and typically have nothing to do with food safety.  Now, granted, "use-by" dates for meat are important.  And "use-by" dates on baby formula are a safety issue.  However, "use by" dates on other foods simply mean that the food is at it's peak quality before that date.

One of the best ways to judge the quality of any given food item is with our eyes and our nose.

You can extend the life of some foods, such as bread, rolls, chips, pretzels, crackers, nuts, etc. by freezing a portion of the package, air-tight, for use at a later date.

Of note, it is perfectly safe to eat eggs up to three weeks after the "use-by" date.

There are some foods that have an almost eternal shelf life.  These include: dried, un-opened pasta, dry and canned beans, vinegar, salt, vanilla, Worcestershire sauce.  Many canned goods have a longer shelf life than you might think.  Of course, never eat anything from a can that is rusted, or a can that is bulging.

Honey never goes bad.  After time it crystalizes, but that can be reversed by heating the honey to liquid and allowing it to cool.  It is antiseptic by nature.

Other dates (according to the USDA)  that you might find on foods include:

"Sell-by" date:  this is for store inventory management and has nothing to do with safety.

"Best-by " and "Freeze-by" date:  again, these are indications of peak quality and not a safety issue.

"Expired" date is also an indication of peak quality and not a safety issue. 

One Last Word About Bottled Water

So, if you have visited the farm for any amount of time then you know that I often plead with everyone to not buy bottle water.  Buy a purifier, or a filter... but not bottled water.  So, what's with the expiration dates on the water bottles?  One would think that bottled water would last forever, right?  After all, what is there to spoil?  Here's the reason... and one more reason why you should choose to not buy bottled water(!): the expiration date has everything to do with the leaching of the plastic from the bottle into the water.  The longer the water is bottled, the more micro-plastic parts you are drinking with said water.  Multiply that by who-knows-how-much if that bottle was ever subject to heat (like in your car on a hot day!). Enough said... but probably not... I'm likely to bring this up again at a later date.

With all of the given problems of this world, these days, it is helpful to focus on the small contributions that we can make that help to make a difference.  It is easy to become overwhelmed by the amount of bad news that seems to swirl around us like a tornado.  It is our task to retain our humanity... with kindness and compassion for our fellow mankind, no matter their opinions... and to take steps, no matter how small,  to help change the trajectory of our world.  Every change we make has a ripple effect.  Let's join our ripples to make a wave of change.

Have a wonderful weekend.  Get outside and enjoy the earth... even if it is just from your porch!

Be well... be safe... we are all in this together!

And because you hung in til the end of this post...


Here is a link to the video on YouTube if it doesn't show below....


Lisa said…
I watched both videos that you recommended. They were excellent. Another video that you might want to watch is The Biggest Little Farm. It shows biodiversity at its best.

I brought in a worm composter at work. It works great and sits in the corner of the kitchen and doesn't smell. We should be harvesting our first castings in a few weeks.

colleen said…
Most of these things are doable for anyone. Posts like this helps keep me on track. I have thought more than once about saving scraps in the freezer to make broth.....Starting today I'm making it a reality. I hated to see this post end. Thanks for sharing all of your knowledge. Make it a great weekend (as if you wouldn't):) xoxoxo

ps. I was so excite to have my bar shampoo and conditioner come in "green" packaging. I think this kind it is going to work on my hair type.
Bee Haven Bev said…
I did see The Biggest Little Farm...
Great movie as well!
Lynne said…
More Food For Thoughts indeed . . .
Thank you for the tid bits!
Excellent post!
Loved the 100 acre video.
farm buddy said…
Great post! Since I raise my own meat chickens, I always cook whole birds. I bake my chicken, have a friend over for dinner, and then use the rest either warmed up or cold. When I am done, I take all bones, including ones I have accumulated from my chicken dinners, and put them in a Dutch oven. I add some water and apple-cider vinegar and stuff like squash seeds or maybe some potatoes, things like that. After letting this sit for about 15 minutes to let the vinegar start the bone-broth process, I put the Dutch oven on my woodstove and let it simmer for days. As soon as it has heated even for a couple of hours, I start using this stuff to add to my dogs' food. After a couple of days, the bones will start to break down enough that I just break them up to a sand like texture and put them on the dogs' kibble. This gives them lots of minerals and other good stuff. If there are any bones that won't break down, like big steak or beef roast bones, I eventually just throw them in the woodstove. Then I put the ashes on my garden or fields. As for vegetable waste and egg shells; I just give them to the feeder pigs. On very cold days, I even pour some of the bone broth on the pigs mash, which they really like!
This N That said…
Great video..Informative post...Food doesn't go to waste around here since there are never any leftovers..I rarely buy anything perishable and I don't cook..Thanks for the info..Always good to know!!!! Enjoy your weekend..
Anonymous said…
For those who haven't composted on a smaller scale before there are additional resources on the web that can be very helpful. There are certain things you don't want to put in your compost for various reasons and there are ways to help the compost breakdown quicker.
Moggie said…
Great info. I'm working on some of these things, but I have a long way to go. No more bottled water, though.

Please post about Imperfect Foods dot com. They sell produce that grocery stores won't buy for cosmetic reasons. It used to be only produce, but they've branched out into other things.
Thanks for this Friday special post, really good to see all the things that I don't think of.
PKBrandon said…
An excellent post in every Way! I've been a tree hugger since the 70's and bottled water is my biggest pet peeve. I don't understand why people buy it in the first place unless they don't have access to clean water. I've been composting for years and just bought a new rotating bin. It will make composting much quicker because I don't turn mine the way I have it set up now.