Managing Waste

Has anyone other than myself noticed how full the garbage disposal or trash bag is after preparing a meal? what about once everyone's plates have been scraped clean?  What can we do with all the vegetable skins, seeds and random scraps? Sometimes it's just skin, but it could also be radish tops, fennel and lemongrass stalks, or a ton of squash seeds. At times, it seems easier to throw things in the trash than to find an alternate use. We live in a world in which waste is so easy to create. I remember my friend calling me from New York City during a series of terrible winter storms, so bad that the garbage trucks hadn't come around for a few days. She described the trash bags piled higher than her head, lining the sidewalk. Think about how much food is wasted by a restaurant (just watch how many plates leave the table with food left on them) or grocery stores. There are increasing efforts to address areas of our infrastructure that perpetuate this approach to waste, from Forgotten Harvest to local farmers partnering with restaurants to turn food scraps into compost. The myopic mindset we are trained to accept fails to acknowledge how each individual action we engage in is connected to the greater whole of our existence. Here are some of our favorite approaches to "waste," ways to "close" the loop, create less waste, and live a more connected life.

Start a compost pile or find one you can contribute to. All vegetable scraps, egg shells, garden waste (leaves, grass clippings), coffee grounds, can get mixed together to create rich soil. Or, freeze vegetable scraps for vegetable stock. I always have carrot peels, mushroom stems, collard green/kale stalks and corn cobs in a bag in the freezer to throw into a big pot, to which I add water, bay leaves, peppercorns, ginger, or whatever I have on hand.

Join a food sharing group with neighbors or friends. I’m a part of a group on facebook called Detroit Food Freecycle, where people post when they have excess food or access to free food that will otherwise go to waste. 

Grate/zest your citrus rinds after juicing them, and add to sauces, salads, eggs, or baked goods for extra flavor. Sometimes I'll zest a bunch of lemons and freeze the zest for later use. 

Dry extra fruit rinds and herbs to use as air fresheners or for tea. You could also add extra herb pieces or fruit rinds to a bowl filled with hot water. Make a centerpiece from dried fruit, a little cinnamon, and herb pieces.  You can naturally eliminate odors by filling the inside a citrus rind with sea salt. If you're lucky enough to have one, throw a couple lemon rinds down your garbage disposal to clean and deodorize the drain. These air fresheners/cleaners eliminate the need of using toxic chemical air fresheners, to which babies, animals and other sensitive populations such as pregnant women and the elderly are the most affected. 

Before throwing away less-than-perfect fruits make jam or jelly or freeze them for smoothies or baked goods. I always lay individual chunks of fruit (or berries) out on a cookie sheet and freeze til solid to prevent unwieldy clumps of fruit later on. Before throwing extra vegetables in the compost pile, make a fermentation! Exercise care to avoid soft spots or any area that could be harboring the beginnings of mold. Here’s a simple way to lacto-ferment extra veggies: http://www.americanfoodroots.com/recipes/sandor-katzs-kraut-chi/

In conclusion, these suggestions are nice when thinking about them but so we can truly decide what to do when we imagine the relevance and consequences behind our current actions.