Monday, December 17, 2007

On (Not) Wasting Food

Have you heard of the Wasted Food blog? Jonathan Bloom chronicles food waste in America while writing a book on this topic. Bloom’s blog strikes a chord with me. To paraphrase a comment I left elsewhere:

I lived in Soviet Russia until I was 9. My grandmother, who survived the Leningrad blockade (when a lot of people starved to death), was a fanatic about not wasting food. I grew up hearing about how she “saved” food that was on the verge of spoiling, or that we had too much of thanks to Soviet surpluses. Milk got turned into homemade cottage cheese; limp cabbage became sauerkraut.

While I never went hungry as a child, certain foods, like bananas, were very rare treats when I was growing up. I loved bananas, but they would only be sold once or twice a year and you had to wait in line for hours to buy them. I wouldn’t have dreamed of tossing a banana.

When I came to the U.S. I was shocked by how much food kids at school threw away. They tossed out bananas! Even back then I would always save whatever I hadn't eaten for lunch and take it back home. I carried my little brown lunch bag all through recess. I still hardly ever throw food away. There's something callous about wasting food

Bloom and his commenters are often perplexed about how not to waste food, but actually it’s pretty easy. Stick to a grocery budget, make soup stock out of those wilted vegetables and leftover chicken parts, plan ahead. In fact, like, home cooking on a budget, what it really takes is planning and an innate interest in cooking. When I buy groceries I always think about what I can do with leftovers, so planning has become second nature.

In contrast, I recently cooked dinner with a friend who gave me carte blanche to make whatever I wanted. It was past 7 p.m. on a weekday I had decided on roasted salmon and potatoes. We made a beeline for the grocery store to pick up the ingredients. (Have I mentioned that this friend has a minimally stocked pantry and little cookware?) Shopping without looking at what’s on sale, without a plan for using leftovers—-what strange, unsettling feeling!

Commenters on Bloom’s blog are always looking for recipes incorporating leftovers. Nothing new from me this week, but here are some past offerings which make good use of whatever you may have in the fridge:

Milk: Make homemade cottage cheese (aka farmer's cheese, curd cheese or tvorog).

Cottage cheese: Bake muffins.

Cooked, cold chicken: Make chicken-stuffed crepes or chicken and spinach hachepouri.

Raw chicken, random vegetables: Make stock.

Tomatoes past their prime: Roast 'em.

Roasted tomatoes, canned tomatoes, or tomato paste: Make chana masala soup.


Jonathan Bloom said...

Yulinka--great post. I appreciate the link to my site and this discussion.

I find it sad that it takes something like a seige of Leningrad or the Great Depression before people really value food. Without suffering like that, modern Americans seem to be "callous" to food waste, as you said.

I have to say that I'm not perplexed about how to avoid food waste. I'm pretty obsessive about it and try to use everything I can. But on my site, I do try to reach readers who may not have thought about waste before.

But either way, your recipes and ideas are a big help! I hope you keep reading the blog and posting interesting reactions.

Yulinka said...

Jonathan--Thanks for stopping by and commenting! There's just so much food in America, available 24/7. That's probably a good thing, actually, but most people don't appreciate what they have.

(About a year after coming to the U.S, I stopped craving bananas. They lost their luster once I realized that I could eat them whenever I wanted).

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