Our founding fathers (and mothers!) did not have the luxury of wasting food. They had no choice but to use every bit of what the planted, raised, and harvested. So as we prepare to celebrate our nation’s independence, we think it’s fitting to think about ways that we can channel their self-reliance, and innovative American spirit into wasting less food this summer. So get your fancy plumed pen ready, because it’s time to declare your independence from food waste!
- Re-prioritize your refrigerator. Like many modern luxuries, refrigerators can be a blessing or a curse, depending on how you use them. Fridges can be a black hole for food waste if you’re not mindful, but the good news is a few easy changes can turn this around. When stocking your fridge, use the FIFO (first in, first out) principle, and regularly rotate older items to the front of the fridge before putting new ones in. Prioritize keeping your fridge organized and uncluttered, as it’s very easy to waste ingredients just because you cannot see them. A clean and organized fridge ensures will prevent you from buying more than you can use, and will make it easy to scan what’s in there and make a plan for using it up.
- Write it down! What gets measured gets managed, so an easy way to manage your waste is to try tracking it. You’re probably already tracking your exercise and the price of a plane ticket to Tahiti, so why not track your food waste? For one week, try writing down every time you have to throw something away. This will help you spot patterns (ie we always buy too much bread or I don’t eat as much spinach as I think I will at the store) and make meaningful changes.
- Re-think portion size. It’s no secret that American portion sizes are getting out of control. Unless you can reliably finish a burrito the size of a puppy, gigantic portions usually make waste inevitable. So when you go to a restaurant, consider splitting a dish with a friend, and always get a to-go bag if you cannot finish your meal. At home, be mindful of the plates that you serve food on. Something as simple as serving dinner on smaller plates (and encouraging folks to get seconds of your Imperfect feast!) can add up to huge food waste savings in the long run.
- Make flexibility and self-reliance priority #1. Thomas Jefferson didn’t have the freedom to pick between dozens of artisanal mayonnaise and yet by all accounts he threw truly epic dinner parties (and loved fresh veggies!). Always plan your meal around the things that you have, prioritizing those that won’t last as long, like fresh produce. While this sounds like it will prevent you from making what you want, you will be pleasantly surprised at how a constraint can make cooking more creative and fun. Planning around what you already have (there’s an app for that) will also save you time and money on unnecessary shopping trips. Finally, if you end up at the store, pondering whether to buy a specialty ingredient, ask yourself if this is something that you can use in multiple recipes, and if it will go bad before you can finish it. If the answer to either is no, leave it on the shelf.
We hope these four ideas help you feel liberated, inspired and empowered. to rethink your approach to food. We know that that sometimes waste happens despite our best intentions, and in those moments urge you to remember that compassion is always on the table. So, the next time you’ve got food that’s at risk of going to waste, think of it as an invitation to be generous! Consider hosting an impromptu dinner party (or pickling/baking party), donating it to a food bank, or even giving it back to the soil in the form of compost. Generosity is never a bad outcome!