Monday, July 30, 2012

One person's food waste is another person's life.

How much of your food goes into the garbage?

In North America we take for granted the amount of food that is available and how much we just end up throwing out at the end of the week because it's not fresh anymore.   Because I am working on a documentary about a family that are desperately trying to reduce the amount of food related trash they produce it makes me feel guilty when I have to throw food out now.

Like today.   I went into the fridge to make something to eat and I decided to make the Collard Greens that I knew I had stashed in the crisper.  I have been attempting to buy more greens than I have ever done in the past because I know they are like cleansers in the body and provide a lot of detoxification of a lot of the nasty things that are floating around in the environment these days.   Here's the problem.   I live alone and have been trying to buy as much food from farmer's markets as I can lately.  But the problem with buying at farmer's markets is that you are limited to the amount of food they decide to sell you and what season it is and the availability of foods.

Also when you are shopping for one person but want to have a variety of foods to get the nutrients you need and the variety of foods you want to eat you end up buying a lot more food than you can make sometimes.  Unless you have a huge extra freezer or like to spend a day a week preserving your foods or prepping your foods for the week and planning your meals around trying to use up every last bit of that lettuce or the bag of carrots it gets pretty difficult to stay on top of all of it before it goes bad.

When you are a single person you can't go to the store and buy 1 carrot,  or one stalk of celery or a couple of lettuce leaves or in the case of my Collard greens you can't buy a half a stalk of collards.   So you either have to eat a whole lot, freeze a whole lot, cook a whole lot or waste a whole lot.

Today I was saddened by the fact that in the process of making my collard greens I pulled out some very wilted Kale that I managed to salvage a few fresh leaves from and I had to toss out about half of the collard green leaves because they were in the fridge a bit too long.

Then I went to get an onion and noticed that the one I pulled out was really soft so I had to toss out one of the onions and I had to dice up 3 other onions to make sure they didn't rot in the basket I had them in.   While I was reaching for the onions I had to toss out 2 sweet potatoes that had sprouted so badly that I thought they were going to grow a tree.  Then back to the fridge to get a few other things and I pulled out a container of rice noodles that I made last week that had been in there way too long and needed to be tossed out because there were some shrimps in it.  After pushing a few things around on the shelf I decided to pull out the milk because I knew that I was probably past the expiry date for that.  Yup... a quarter of the carton down the drain.  I also had some buttermilk that I used for some fried chicken and another recipe and that was expired too..... also down the drain.

I finally got down to actually making the collard greens and I kept looking at one lonely tomato sitting in a bowl on my counter and thought I better throw that in or that would probably end up in the garbage in a day or two as well.   So that went into the Collards.   So about an hour and a half later I had my cooked collard greens and a bowl of chopped onions that I had to put in the fridge.   Even after eating my portion of greens I still had another full serving left so that went back into the fridge.   I have to make sure I eat it tomorrow or it will probably get pushed further back in the fridge only to be tossed out later.

Oh and I almost forgot about the thick cut bacon that I cut a third up from the package to use instead of the traditional use of ham hocks.   I find that for me buying the ham hocks is a waste even though it's cheaper than bacon, but since I don't eat the ham hocks it just goes into the garbage too.   So this time I cut up some bacon into small pieces and used the bacon fat to flavour the cooked onions and the Collard Greens and tossed the bacon bits in after they had been cooking a while.   But once again I over estimated and had a little container left of the cooked off bacon bits that I put back in the fridge.   Now I have to remember to use them in a salad or some eggs or something or even with a grilled cheese sandwich.   But the point is I have to remember to use them up when I am thinking about what to cook.

My freezer is already full as I always end up putting in soups and chilli's and chicken stocks because you can't just make a single serving size of them.

I live in an apartment so there isn't a possibility of me getting another freezer, something I really miss about having a house.

So that leads me back to my point about single serving sizes.  I wonder if grocery stores or other markets will find a way to split foods into smaller amounts for the single apartment dwellers so that we can cut down on the amount of food we have to toss into the landfill because the city hasn't figured out a way to process food waste in apartments and condos in Toronto.   I know there is an option to have a composter on my balcony but I am certainly not the most dedicated person to keep on top of that and make sure it's doing it's job.  

This makes me think about all the food that is wasted in a city like Toronto and then multiply it to the rest of Canada and then to North America and all the food we throw out could surely feed the kids they say are starving in Africa.   Well it does make me feel guilty every time I  haul a bag of rotten food out to the garbage shute but other than spending my whole day in the kitchen and cooking up every last bit of vegetable or skipping buying fresh vegetables and eating food out when I want fresh foods then I don't know how to have a happy medium.

Have a look at this article that I found about the statistics on food waste.

What a Waste: The Food We Throw Away

I know the tips they suggest are to plan your meals, to freeze foods you can't finish, to buy less, to share your food.   But life happens sometimes and you sometimes buy food for the week and then have a busy week where you are out of the house more than you are at home and your hard earned food doesn't make it into the pot or pan in time.

This is why you see a lot of single people with only beer and wine in their fridges and why there is an epidemic of people spending more time eating out at fast food chains than they do cooking food at home.

I don't have all the answers as I am struggling with this issue myself, but I hope that I figure it out one day and create some sort of system of food buying and preparing that maximizes the food I buy.

As an example:  I can go into the food court of my mall and pick up a container of Chinese food filled with rice, chicken, vegetables and spring rolls for $5 where I would probably have to spend $50 for all the groceries to make that same food and then there would be so much left that would get wasted.    But the cost of buying the take out version is the lack of control of what's going into my food and the packaging that it comes in.

There are trade offs for everything in life.  All this started with a simple pot of Collard Greens.   I have to try and strive to be more creative in the kitchen to try not to waste my food and my money in the future.  It will be a constant challenge and one that I hope to conquer eventually.


  1. I totally understand where you are coming from. I struggle with this as well. I tend to cook mostly for myself, and my kids (all adults) mostly fend for themselves, as their food preferences are quite different from mine. As a result, I end up freezing my extra portions when I can't eat everything. Also, ideally I do a daily visual inspection of the crisper in the fridge, and figure out what I should be eating first, so it doesn't go bad. I also have a lot of garden goodies coming ripe all at once, so I have to keep on top of using that up or freezing it before it rots. It is time consuming for sure but I am pretty good at keeping up with long as I don't have one of those weeks from hell that happen every once in a while. Then, I feel horribly guilty when I have to throw things out.

  2. I don't cook everyday so I am not always on top of what's going on with everything in my fridge and don't always feel like eating the things that seem to spoil the quickest. There will be a whole foods opening within walking distance in the next couple of years. I think having a walkable grocery store will prevent having to stock up on foods and hopefully prevent wasted foods. I hope.

  3. I threw out a package of baby cukes a few days ago. Seems I forgot to use them. Funny how that happens to me often. The up side is that since I don't live alone, I do cook on a regular basis so I end up using up a lot of the foods that would otherwise go bad. I buy a lot of lemons and those end up going bad since I keep them on the counter to optimize their juice content. Salad greens in those plastic bins go bad very quickly so I have to eat them within 2 days of opening up the package but it's not always possible. I've taken on the habit of freezing veggie scraps or soft veggies and using them for soup stock in the fall or winter.


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