The numbers are as shocking as they are appalling.
At a time when one in eight families in America struggles to put dinner on the table, a whopping 40 percent of the food produced in the country never gets eaten.
Some of it rots in the field before it can get harvested or gets lost or damaged during processing and packaging; other food items get tossed because they’re too ugly to be displayed in the grocery store. Thousands of pounds of leftovers end up in the trash because by the time we remember they’re in the refrigerator, they’re moldy.
Confusion over food labels only adds to the problem.
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If you don’t know the difference between “best by,” an advisory that simply means the product will taste best up until that date, but is still edible a few days after, and “sell by,” a date that helps stores keep track of inventory that needs to be bought by a certain time, you are not alone. Labels can be tricky to negotiate – they vary from state to state or even manufacturer to manufacturer – and 90 percent of Americans throw away food that’s perfectly edible. Twenty percent of the food we buy never gets eaten.
As a result, the average family of four throws out $1,500 of food each year, to the combined annual tune of $165 billion. Food scraps rotting in landfills accounts for about 16 percent of all U.S. methane emissions.
Diners tend to waste less when they understand the harm it inflicts on the environment. So education is key in changing consumer behaviors.
In December, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service revised its guidance on date labeling, encouraging manufacturers to use a “Best if used by” date label instead of “sell by” or “use by” because that phrase is easily understood by consumers as an indicator of quality, rather than safety.
In the meantime, there are simple things people can do to cut down on food waste and in the process, save money. If you plan meals better and go to the grocery store with a shopping list, you won’t buy things you won’t use. Storing food correctly can greatly reduce throwaways. So can learning how to pickle foods and starting a love affair with your freezer.
Conducting a “waste audit” every few weeks also will help to pinpoint what is being wasted, and why. Websites such as savethefood.com and stilltasty.com provide tips on how to store food and whether it is edible.
Potato Peel Croutons
“Eat it Up!” by Sherri Brooks Vinton (Da Capo Press, May 2016). The skins from peeled potatoes make a terrific snack when tossed with a little olive oil and roasted.
2 cups potato peels from well-scrubbed potatoes
6 garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 teaspoons of fresh thyme, or to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Preheat oven to 275 degrees.
Toss potato peels and garlic cloves with oil and thyme; add salt and pepper to taste. Arrange in a single layer on a rimmed cookie sheet. Roast until crisp, about 20 minutes, tossing occasionally to ensure even cooking.
Remove from oven and immediately toss with cheese. Use croutons to top salads and casseroles. Can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
Yield: 2 cups.
Marinated Broccoli Stems
From Martha Rose Shulman in the Los Angeles Times. Pickled broccoli stems are a perfect nibbler for cocktail parties, and completely addictive.
3 or 4 broccoli stems
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large clove garlic, very finely chopped or pressed
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (or use equal parts oil and vinegar)
Peel broccoli stems and cut them into 1/8-inch-thick slices. Toss the stems with salt in a jar and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, pour off the water that has accumulated in the jar.
Add garlic, vinegar and oil to the jar, stir well and refrigerate for several hours. These keep for a week or more, but the color will fade.
Yield: 4 servings.
Leftover Spaghetti Pie
1/2 pound leftover cooked pasta
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt to taste
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
3 large eggs
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
About 1/4 cup milk or light cream
1 cup cooked and crumbled sweet Italian sausage
1 cup diced tomato
Preheat over to 350 degrees.
Heat olive oil in an ovenproof, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add pasta, season to taste with salt and red pepper flakes, and turn to coat until warm.
In large bowl, whisk eggs and then stir in cheese, milk or cream, sausage and tomato. Pour warm pasta into bowl with egg mixture, and toss to combine ingredients.
Pour spaghetti mixture into greased 10-inch pie plate; push noodles up onto the sides and bottom to form a crust. (I pressed the mixture into a springform pan.) Sprinkle with additional Parmesan, if desired, and bake for 25 minutes.
Serve warm or at room temperature, with additional red pepper flakes.