Gulp. Food Waste Report, Week One

It was just over a week ago that I (and many of you, my readers) got all fired up about the Food Network’s “Big Waste” special.  I live-chatted with a number of you during the show, I wrote a follow-up post, and I vowed — both to myself and publicly — to do something, even in small measure, to combat food waste in my own little corner of the world.  That “something,” to wit, happened to be a moment of madness in which I said I’d keep track of all the food wasted in our house each week between now and March 21, and chronicle that waste here for the world to see.

Gulp.  It’s time for the first report.

First, the caveats: I am NOT good at keeping track of stuff yet, so I may, quite honestly, have missed one or two things along the way.  I’m trying to get better, I promise, but it’s hard to develop a habit of keeping track of what you previously considered to be trash.  Secondly, after some consideration, I decided that I’d measure the waste by general portion/measurements (most of which are educated estimates), rather than by a more scientific and exact method like weight.  Frankly, that’s somewhat motivated by laziness, because if I had to haul out my kitchen scale and weigh every scrap before disposing of it, this project would fall apart in a hurry.  However, I’ll also point out that since I rarely think of my food in terms of POUNDS, but rather in terms of portions, cups, tablespoons, etc., the whole exercise is probably more meaningful to me anyway if I look at our household food waste in terms that have a functional translation to my brain.

So here goes…food waste, week one, in no particular order:
1 small bunch beets.  I found them in a bag in the waaaaay back of the fridge.  They were NOT edible any longer.  Trust me.
1 1/2 small bunches cilantro.  This burns me a little.  I had a bunch of cilantro in the crisper, which I somehow overlooked.  I bought another and only used half of it.  By the time I’d found the first one, it was too late…and before I could make myself do something to preserve the other half-bunch, time had become my enemy.  Purely, purely my fault.
1 cup greens.  This is an assortment, a round-up if you will, of little odds and ends from various packages of salad greens and cooking greens.  We usually use things like this completely, but there was a little kale here…a little mesclun there…and a few leaves of baby spinach that just never got eaten.
1 cup assorted vegetables — tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, peppers.  This is the sum of all the vegetables that were either included in lunchboxes or on dinner plates that ended up neglected.  The lunchbox ones couldn’t be salvaged by the time they got home; the dinner ones just didn’t get saved, because I’m not good at managing our food waste yet.  This much I’ve learned.
1/4 cup fruit salad with yogurt topping.  Leftover from P.’s lunch one day.  Sat in a warm cubby all afternoon.  ‘Nuff said.
1 whole carrot.  This one slipped out of my fingers as I peeled it, fell into a dish of soapy water in the sink, and as I tried to retrieve it, I dropped it down the drain.  I’m motivated to manage our food waste, but not that motivated.
1 dozen small (51-count) shrimp.  I’m SO angry with myself about this one.  Shrimp are EXPENSIVE, damn it, and not something I am prone to wasting in any case.  Unfortunately, I’d made shrimp to bring to a party, and these dozen didn’t fit into the dish; so I popped them in our refrigerator with the solemn vow to myself that I’d cook them up for J. and me the next day.  You can see the result of that vow.
2 chicken drumsticks.  We cleaned out the fridge; they were in a mysterious foil package.  Yup.
1 piece broccoli quiche.  Forgive me for this one.  I must confess, it’s a simple matter of nobody really wanted to eat it.
1 banana-sunbutter slider on mini-English muffin.  P. took two of these sliders in his lunch one day; one was eaten, the other appeared to have been…licked.
1 pepperoni-spinach calzone.  Another lunch casualty, another afternoon in a hot cubby.
1/2 cup oatmeal (prepared with milk and maple syrup).  I made too much the first day, saved it, reheated and ate it again the second day, and frankly couldn’t see how it would continue to be edible after another reheating.
2 falafels.  Well, most of 2 falafels.  The kids nibbled, gnawed, smashed, and otherwise mangled them in the course of dinner.
1 cup cooked whole-wheat pasta with garlic butter.  I was so good!  I saved a whole bunch of this pasta.  I ate it again.  And reinvented it and ate it again.  And the last bit just didn’t quite make it.
1 slice whole-wheat bread.  J. thought it seemed a little stale, so he tossed it.
1 ounce (give or take) grass-fed beef.  P. didn’t finish the second slider he asked for at dinner one night.  We did save the scraps, dutifully, but when he asked for them again at lunch he still didn’t eat them.  I’ll only go so far on this one.
1/2 cup organic yogurt.  P., again.  He wanted it for breakfast, ate only a little, left the table, and we were in such a rush leaving the house that we FORGOT IT WAS THERE.  Ew.  Don’t come home to old yogurt on your dining table.  Just…don’t.

And that, my friends, is it.  The first week’s accounting of wasted food, laid out in black and white, in horrible detail.  We could have probably fed another PERSON, quite seriously, given what was cavalierly thrown away after our family was properly fed.  And now it’s your turn — give it to me straight.  Did I do better or worse than you expected?  How do you think this amount of waste stacks up against your household’s food waste in a given week?  And have any of you been keeping track for yourselves?

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Gulp. Food Waste Report, Week One

  1. Pingback: Food Waste, Week Two: Pleasantly Surprised | Red, Round, or Green

  2. Rachael Warrington says:

    You have inspired….I have kept track so far of our left overs and they have been going into lunches. Two nights ago we had dinner buffet made up of all the left overs. Tonight I will freeze the little bit of chili, figure out something with the pork for lunches tomorrow and freeze the meatballs from Sunday.
    I am only buying the barest amount of produce…they must have a purpose in a meal. Any produce that doesn’t make it to a meal gets collected and fed to the chickens, so I don’t feel horrid about it since we sell our eggs and they give back to family.

    • I’m so happy to hear that you’re keeping track as well! We have always tried to build lunches around leftovers, because that’s the cheapest and healthiest way to ensure that we eat well at every meal. We also buy only the produce we need, or think we’ll need, but I do keep extras on hand for lunches and so forth. However, I think I can also get better at using and/or preserving whatever we don’t automatically eat. And I’m jealous of your chickens. :-) Occasionally I have the fleeting dream of raising our own chickens…!


  3. Jennifer says:

    Well, I said I was in this with you, so here’s my list:

    1 small bunch of beets: the icon of this effort, for me. I got them in my last CSA box, which was in October. They were well beyond salvage.

    1 bunch of collard greens: I had plans for these, and then my plans changed, and they sat in the crisper drawer until they turned yellowish and brittle.

    4 medium-sized onions: At the last farmer’s market of the season (also October) I bought a lot of onions and decided to try to keep them in my basement. Some are still with us. Others (such as these 4) rotted on the bottom. I realized that one side of the box was getting a bit of sunlight (oops). So much for my pretend root cellar.

    4 single-serve cups of fruit yogurt: WAY past their sell-by date (November.) Notably, they are the last single-serve cups of flavored yogurt that I intend to buy. I’ve realized that my children like plain yogurt, and it’s much more versatile, and doesn’t have any extra gunk in it. (Sha-zam. I’m still getting “there”, folks.)

    2 slices of deli-sliced turkey: local, organic, expensive, lost under some cheese, slimy. Oops. (irritated with myself about this one.)

    3oz (approx) of blue cheese which seemed a bit more blue that it should have been. A bit more fuzzy, too.

    1 fossilized lemon: I don’t even remember buying it.

    About 6oz of milk, found in a sippy cup that was “lost” in the car for . . . too long. (gross.)

    2 tablespoons of cinnamon-butter that my husband inexplicably threw away. (?!?)

    About a cup of turkey soup with rice. The soup had been reheated 3 times, the rice was leftover from another meal and added to what was left of the soup and reheated, and after all of that, what was left in the bottom of the pot wasn’t worth saving. I was glad because I was getting ready to write off the soup until my husband decided to eat it for lunch on Sunday and I joined him. So, it could have been worse.

    Assorted breakfast, lunch and dinner leavings. I didn’t really keep track of these but will try to do so this week.

    What I did that I might not have done had I not been keeping track of the waste: (I am all about the positive.)

    Turned a loaf of whole wheat bread that was a bit of a doorstop into something akin to melba toast – for scooping up hummus.

    Added 4 carrots, 1 leek, 2 parsnips, a chunk of celeriac and a bit of fresh parsley to the freezer stock trimmings bag. Ordinarily they would have languished in the fridge until they were unusable – since they were just on the verge I dedicated them to at least be turned into stock.

    Rescued some herbs. My cilantro appreciates your cilantro’s sacrifice – by your cilantro’s example, mine was able to be saved, turned into chimichurri, and frozen for the next time I find myself in need of chimichurri.

    Eggnog ice cream.

    • Jennifer, I LOVE that you are in this with me! I couldn’t wait to get your report! It looks like you did pretty well — seems like you and I are sort of in the same place as to where our major areas of food waste tend to come from.
      I’m really happy that you did include the positives. I’ll be taking a page out of your book for that in my next report! It’s great that being mindful of the issue led you to make some changes and decisions you might not have made otherwise. And I’m SO happy that my cilantro did not suffer in vain. 😉

  4. Claire says:

    I agree the kids food waste is a huge issue for us. I just ate half a banana they didn’t finish and usually it’s 2 because they each have to have one peel and all and never finish them. I did great with leftover pasta this week turning it and sausage into baked ziti (2 8×8’s full) which may have otherwise not been used. There was some cucumber that wasn’t used but my biggest waste was some pork chops from the freezer that I swear had been in our old house’s freezer that I pitched- they looked a bit gross and my mom so would have cooked them!

    • I feel like I’m ALWAYS eating the 1/2 a banana nobody finished! 🙂 It does sound like you did great with turning some things you had into new meals — and bonus for two pans of food! I hope one of those ended up in the freezer to save you time later. I’m laughing out loud about the pork chops. I think we all know somebody who’d cook those things and swear they were perfectly good!

      • Anonymous says:

        No we ate them 2 nights in a row with the different “help” I had die to Jamie not being here. I had frozen some soup but had left some out for lunches and forgot to mention the cup or so that was tossed when no one at it. We’ll keep working at it.

  5. Amy says:

    I don’t think you did too bad at all. I have to admit food waste isn’t a main focus of mine aside from the financial implications on our food budget. Lucky for me, my husband hates to waste food so he does an excellent job of cleaning out the refrigerator for ‘concoctions’ in his lunch or free-for-all dinner. He is much better than me! I really need to focus on not wasting herbs. Out should be easier come spring as I will stay an herb garden where I can pick only what I need. BTW I did take your advice about the cilantro ice cubes this weekend. Thank you!

    • Thanks for the vote of confidence, Amy! I’m glad the ice cube thing worked out. 🙂 You’re so lucky to have another person in your house who takes the lead on the food waste issue. J. is mindful of it, but sometimes I think we both get lazier than we mean to be.

  6. That stale bread can go into a tin of baked goods to keep them soft, or into your brown sugar to do the same. Or out to the birds and squirrels. But really – considering that a fair amount of this was warm cubby lunchbox waste, not bad. And awareness is such a huge step, that I think that since you’re both aware and holding yourself accountable, we’re all going to be astounded by how much you change this over time. 🙂 Good job, lady!

    • Aw, thanks! So right about the stale bread. I actually tried to stop J. from chucking it, but it was too late. (I also don’t think it was super-stale, so I figured it would be a good breakfast for P. — one slice of French Toast!) Oh well. As you say, we’re aware and accountable now, so we’ll do better and better…I hope…!

    • Uly says:

      Stale bread can also be made into croutons or french toast. Heck, it’s why we HAVE croutons and french toast.

  7. Alissa says:

    I think you did great! Honestly, I don’t think it’s really fair for you to count the things you prepare for your kids that they don’t finish in your tally, since you have very limited control over that – I talk to my daughter CONSTANTLY about not wasting food and trying to only ask for what she really wants, but in the end, kids are only so capable of knowing how much they want before they start eating, and eating more than they want just creates another (and in my opinion much worse) problem (as adults we’re programmed to eat whatever we put on our plates – does that mean that the food isn’t wasted if it’s more than we needed in the first place, but we don’t have the presence of mind to stop when we’re satisfied? Or we finish the food left on our kids’ plates so that it doesn’t go to “waste”?). The school lunches seem even harder to manage – you have to send enough in case they’re really hungry that day, but you never know in advance! The things like the beets, cilantro, and shrimp are a bit frustrating, and I have plenty of those types of throw-aways, too, but that was the minority of your list.

    • That’s an interesting perspective, Alissa! I wholeheartedly agree with you about not wanting to send the message to the kids (or to the adults) in the house that eating more than you want is better than wasting the food, and I try very hard not to make a big deal about food waste directly TO the kids. However, while I’m tempted to adopt your view and dismiss the waste from the lunchboxes, I think it is a very real part of the accounting that we all should do when we’re thinking about the food we buy vs. the food we eat vs. the food we buy and DON’T eat. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not going to beat myself up for it. But I need to have a realistic picture of it, because honestly, what if I discovered a pattern? What if each day a full third of P.’s lunch were coming home, for example? That might lead me to send less food in his lunchbox, which might have several positive effects. You’re so right, though, that school lunches are harder than at-home lunches because you’ve got to sort of over-estimate what the kids will eat in order to be sure that they’ll have the right amount for whatever their mood/appetite is that day. 🙂
      I think next week may get worse before it gets better, truthfully. We’re not in the “Swing” of this yet and I’m certain there’ll be more sort of miscellaneous fridge carnage coming…

  8. Viki says:

    Licked!!! LOL. The kids at preschool do this All the time. You did better than I expected. We have a dog, some of those scraps of meat would have gone to the dog and possibly noodles as well. He loves noodles. Now, no one chew me out for that. We pay mighty good money for quality food for the dog as well as ourselves.
    Did we ever decide if composting counts? because some of your list would have gone right into the compost and I’d not have considered it wasted. my coffee grounds and banana skins go into the compost too.
    Question do we count things like the stalks from the broccoli, the shavings from the carrots?

    • I think the standard was that if it was still basically edible in its form, then yes, it counts; so if you’re composting things that you could have eaten, while it’s a BETTER choice than simply throwing away, it’s still waste. The carrot shavings etc., however, no. Not waste, since they’re not truly intended to be eaten. (Broccoli stalks are a different story, and harder for me to overlook, since our family eats the stalks.) 🙂
      Coffee grounds, banana skins = excellent compost and not waste at all. Trimmings from celery, onion tops, etc. don’t count as waste either, but extra points for either composting or reusing in stock. Does that make sense?

      • Uly says:

        Carrot shavings can go into stock or into, as said, compost. They can also be fed to chickens, if you have chickens. I never peel my carrots, anyway. Too lazy.

        Celery trimmings can go in tuna or chicken salad, or, again, in stock. (EVERYTHING can go in stock except brassicas, tea bags, coffee grounds, and eggshells. Those can go in the compost.)

      • I learned the hard way not to put the brassicas in stock – I had some really overwhelming cauliflowery veggie stock once – that was enough to learn that lesson!

      • Yeah, I think most inveterate stock makers have learned this! Although…I have put some broccoli stems into stock and not had it go badly awry. You just have to be pretty sparing with them. Cauliflower is a DEFINITE no, though.

      • I do tend to put my carrot shavings into the stock bag, but even if I didn’t, I don’t think I’d count them towards a general accounting of wasted food. (And if it’s the height of summer and i’m getting my carrots from my favorite local pesticide-free farmer, I don’t usually peel them either! I trust their source!) As to celery trimmings, they always go in the stock bag. I don’t usually use them in my tuna or chicken salad because the “trimmings” are so minimal when I do them that it’s not worth it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s