New book offers tips on food thriftiness
What is sitting in your refrigerator just waiting to be thrown away?
Half cans of tomato paste and chicken broth hiding behind the jars of pickles and mayonnaise.
A bunch of cilantro or parsley wilting in the vegetable drawer after only a handful was used in a recipe.
A lonely, leftover hunk of pork tenderloin or a cup of chicken soup.
We all do it. Each year, Americans waste an estimated 160 billion pounds of food – enough to fill the Rose Bowl to the brim, according to Jonathan Bloom, author of “American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of its Food (and What We Can Do About It)” (Da Capo Lifelong Books, 384 pages, $26).
Because an estimated 40 percent of food waste comes from our homes, we all can do better.
Near the top of my list of New Year’s resolutions is wasting less food. So I asked Bloom for advice.
The seeds of food thriftiness were planted in Bloom by his mother, a woman who always took home doggie bags from restaurants and for whom no leftover was too small to save. Home is where he learned the practice of turning an array of leftovers into an occasional smorgasbord dinner.
Bloom, 34, started researching this book in 2005 after working at a food recovery operation in Washington, D.C. During those five years, he has evolved from a person who was taught to understand the value of food to someone who is actively trying to avoid wasting it.
That’s not to say leftovers don’t go uneaten or ingredients never spoil in Bloom’s Durham, N.C., home. He’s quick to admit: “I just wrote a book about this stuff, and I’m still letting it happen.”
We’re never going to eliminate food waste, Bloom says, but we can reduce it.
If, like me, you are resolving to do better, here are some tips from Bloom:
• Shop smarter. If you like grocery shopping, shop for a handful of meals at a time. If you don’t like to shop, plan a week’s worth of meals and go to the store with a detailed list.
Stick to your list. Don’t make impulse buys of perishable items.
• Serve smaller portions. Instead of heaping first servings, let people come back for seconds. That way, less food is scraped off plates into the trash.
• Love your leftovers. You can look at leftovers in two ways: convenient or creative. It’s convenient to pack the next day’s lunch after dinner. It’s a culinary challenge to turn last night’s roast chicken into several meals from soup to enchiladas.
• Approach expiration dates with a degree of skepticism. Bloom says those dates – use by, best by and sell by – aren’t required by federal law, except on baby formula and baby food.
The dates refer more to food quality than food safety. Trust your senses to determine whether food has spoiled.
• Keep your refrigerator uncluttered. Pack leftovers in clear containers. Shift new items to the back and old items to the front.
Designate a shelf as the “use it up” area for soon-to-expire items.
• Start a compost pile. If you do have to throw food away, you can avoid sending it to the landfill and instead help your garden.