by Learning Lead – Rachel Krueger

For weeks I’ve been eating slightly bruised, unsightly and nearly-“off” food and admittedly, I feel… absolutely fine!

I used to scoff at my dad, who our family lovingly referred to as “The Vacuum”, or “The Human Garbage Can” for his ability to scarf down everyone’s remaining food on their plate. I have now adopted his zeal for food scraps, although my appetite still doesn’t come close to his!

I catch my eyes roving around my cabinets and fridge, almost daring the food to go bad and uneaten on my watch (never!!). While my “Giving Food Waste a New Life” journey has turned into a fun personal challenge, there have been some moments when it’s felt like too much work. 

It requires a lot of forethought to keep track of all the food waste I may conceivably produce, and to take stock of what I have already produced. 

Making decisions in the grocery store through a ‘food waste reuse’ lens has also been tricky, because sometimes I’m buying and cooking for one person, and sometimes I’m buying and cooking for myself AND others. The ratios of how much I should buy often get distorted, leading to some regrettable food-related situations such as:

The bag of avocados I bought because they were on sale, but they suddenly ripened all at once. Ahh! Solution: It’s guac time! Make a big batch of guacamole to share.

This lettuce now calls our crowded freezer home. Photo by Rachel Krueger.

A huge container of spinach that went slimy after 2 days? Solution: If you catch it before it becomes truly inedible, tuck your greens in the freezer to use for smoothies, pasta sauces and stews for later use.

These are just some of the everyday hurdles I’ve run up against during my skill learning journey, but I’ve developed some pithy sayings to keep in mind, starting at the grocery store up until deciding whether your food’s fate is in the garbage can. Here they are, in chronological order.

At the Grocery Store

  • Do I Really Need It? – Buy only what you need. This surely has to be the #1 practice for reducing food waste in the first place!
  • Beware of Bulk – Buying in bulk can be tempting because of the cost-effectiveness, reduced plastic waste, and enticing amount of food it’s associated with. When it comes to produce, many of us can’t make a dent in bulk quantities quickly enough before they begin to spoil. So, think before you buy in bulk! This practice doesn’t apply for frozen bulk foods, or if you are buying for many people. I also definitely condone buying non-perishable foods in bulk. 
  • Meal Prep Monday – Meal prepping involves more time and effort from the get-go, but it pays off in the long term, especially on those weeknights when, “What’s for dinner?” is the most vexing question in the world. Shopping for foods with a meal plan in mind means that the ingredients purchased are accounted for in a set meal, which increases your likelihood of using them at home. 
  • Embrace ‘Ugly-Produce’ – While this practice doesn’t reduce your own personal food waste footprint, so-called ‘ugly produce’ products (think, off-colour or misshapen fruit and vegetables) contribute to institutional food waste. Grocers deem ugly produce as being unsellable for cosmetic reasons, and often, it gets tossed before it even makes it to the shelf. Sometimes, ugly produce makes it to the shelf, but most people avoid it. If you happen to see a tasty-looking, mutated tomato, take it home with ya! Or, if you are aware of a retailer or farmers’ market vendor who sells ugly produce, try to buy from them! Otherwise, that perfectly good food will likely get thrown out.

At Home

  • Add Water to Avoid Wilt – Store greens and herbs in water to preserve their freshness.
  • Pickle It – Pickling is the process of preserving vegetables or extending the life of food through fermentation using a brine or immersion in vinegar. I knew I wouldn’t get through a whole bag of radishes, so I tried my hand at pickling!
  • Share the Love (Food) – If you live with people, collaborating on meals is a fantastic way to avoid food waste and share in the joy of cooking (er, most times) with others. My roommates and I have made meals simply by consolidating all of our random, “clear out the fridge” food items. If you don’t live with people, or even if you do, joining a Buy Nothing or trading community group like Bunz opens up a window of possibilities for trading and gifting foods. I’m a part of both of these types of online groups, and I’ve gifted and traded foods I had too much of, or didn’t love the taste of, and I’ve received foods from neighbours this way, too!

To Throw Out, Or Not to Throw Out

  • Eat as Much as You Can – Simply eat as much of your food as you can! Whether it’s eating an apple down to the core or cooking with vegetable stems, many of us have internalized false (and wasteful!) notions about the edibility of certain foods. Carrot greens, for instance, are edible and nutritious, and make a great addition to salad or even a pesto. Check out my fellow Learning Lead Kelsey Lane’s blog post for a tasty recipe using carrot tops!
  • Reuse the Rinds – Citrus rinds are underrated. Citrus zest can be used in baked goods, in salads, in marinades for meat or tofu, in yogurt, in loose leaf teas… In addition, if their strong scent is any indication, citrus peels make a fantastic cleaning product! I made an all-purpose cleaner using lemon rinds, white vinegar, and water—I also added lavender essential oil to mask the vinegar scent. You can repurpose any type of citrus peels and use a variety of herbs to make a natural cleaning spray—orange, lime, lemon, grapefruit, and lavender, rosemary, thyme, sage, or mint. I followed this guide.
  • Slow Down – This practice is more abstract than the others. I think it has generally helped shape my approach to all of the above practices, though. In a conversation with a friend, I shared that many of the barriers to not wanting to deal with my food waste were because I often felt busy and rushed. She then suggested that it’s likely because we live in a culture that values efficiency and ‘toxic productivity’ over everything. I have to agree—buying and cooking food felt like a chore that occupied more of my day than it needed to. I often caught myself shopping and cooking mindlessly, focussed on the next thing. Slowing down and attempting to be a little more intentional has helped to guide my relationship with food waste, and food, more generally.

Thanks for reading. My next blog will take a slight detour from the mainly food-related food scrap content, to paper-related food scrap content! I’ve never made paper before, so I’m super excited (and curious!) about the process.

Stay hungry, and save your food scraps! 🙂