Warriors Redefined

Waste Not, Want Not

by Moira Silva

Waste Not, Want Not

Lucy Engelman

Food waste warriors don’t plot and fight. We pickle and freeze.

This is the beginning of the surprisingly engaging Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook: A Guide to Eating Well and Saving Money by Wasting Less Food by Dana Gunders.

Before I picked up this powerhouse guide, I would have sworn I was an advocate of the food waste warrior movement. After all, I composted, bought local and served leftovers. But, really, how good was I, if cleaning out the fridge was as much a part of my food ritual as picking up eggs at my neighborhood farm?

At a friend’s suggestion, I checked Gunders’ book out of the library. By page 30, I had dog-eared more than half the pages. Eye-popping facts greet the reader on page one: “Did you know about 40 percent of all food in the United States does not get eaten?” That’s like buying five cartons of takeout from Copper Wok and leaving two on the curb. Luckily, an abundance of simple suggestions appear, i.e. whatever you do, don’t waste meat. Instantly, I began making changes at home, and, when I ponied up the $18.95 for my very own copy, I noticed how quickly the book began paying for itself.

Gunders’ ideas are doable, even for the busiest of people, saving anyone who gives them a try both food and money. Simply rearranging a refrigerator or pantry so that fading items are located front and center invites the older food to be integrated into whatever is being prepared that day. When I can easily spot them, last week’s hummus, leftover string beans and extra grapes can be turned into a respectable crudité in a flash.

Keeping Gunders’ food recovery model in mind has been monumental in my household: 1. Create less surplus; 2. Feed humans; 3. Feed animals; 4. Consider industrial uses; 5. Compost; and 6. As last resort: use the trash.

Gunders states, “The freezer is the food waste warrior’s best friend.” It’s true. My freezer supports her food recovery model so well that I now have three large resealable bags in it: a “soup bag” to include the onion I only used half of (perfect for her “Anything Goes Soup” recipe), a “smoothie bag” for the peaches my kids begged for at the grocery store but are now softening on the counter, and a “pig food bag” for my son’s stale leftover turkey sandwich. Turns out you can freeze just about anything, especially leftovers, like pasta or Irish Soda Bread, but there are several tricks to keep in mind, like planning “a freezer night every week so you actually eat that beef stew before it is covered in ice crystals.”

Gunders, a staff scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, is a leader in reducing food waste across the country. Throughout the book, she cites global and national concerns, while also hitting close to home by illuminating the uncomfortable reasons why we waste. But instead of laying on the guilt, Gunders manages to inspire and even to entertain. Her practical approach and friendly, relatable tone make the handbook a pleasure to read. One might put it on a bookshelf . . . except for the invaluable collection of recipes and creative ideas for featuring leftovers. (Infused Vodka or After-Party Crusted Chicken, anyone?)

Her reference guides include information about storing produce so that it lasts longer, directions for blanching vegetables, a list of foods that can be eaten safely past their prime (just say no to green potatoes!) and eco-friendly party planning ideas. All this, plus a clean, modern design, helped me to find a home for my newly purchased handbook in the kitchen, alongside my cookbooks.

When getting started, it’s amazing to see how food waste reduction can have a snowball effect. Opportunity to reduce food waste is everywhere. But, in her reassuring tone, Gunders admits: nobody is perfect. Doing something is better than doing nothing at all.

Waste reduction and food conservation are critical issues and Waste Free Kitchen Handbook is an inviting place to start. As we usher in autumn, and open our freezers and basements to the harvest surplus, we can be devour delicious leftovers, too.

“Each year, during Thanksgiving, Americans toss about $282 million of uneaten turkey into the trash. Along with the meat, that’s equivalent to throwing out 105 billion gallons of water (enough to supply NYC for over 100 days) and greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 800,000 car trips from New York to San Francisco.”