Waste-Less Wednesday: Waste Free Kitchen Handbook Review

November 25, 2015 § Leave a comment

Thanksgiving kicks off the holiday season in the US this week, and for many of us that means the start of the eating season. Thanksgiving dinners this week will give way to December’s holiday parties, cookie exchanges, dinners out, and family gatherings. We’ll cook lots, eat lots, and yes, waste lots, too.

Cheesy baked mashed potatoes: a holiday tradition

Cheesy baked mashed potatoes: a holiday tradition

Who hasn’t prepared a holiday meal or hosted a holiday party and ended up with too much food? We fear running out or not having enough options for our guests, and so we overcompensate. Or maybe we make extra so that we don’t have to cook for a few days following the feast. And yet, inevitably, some of that food ends up in the garbage. When it comes to the T-Day bird, for example, the USDA estimates that we’ll toss out about one-third of it. Dollar-wise, that’s a collective $282 million going into the garbage this holiday season (despite our best efforts at eating turkey everything this coming weekend). Hard to swallow when there are so many food-insecure families who might be challenged to put even a small meal on the table this holiday season.

What if you had a handy-dandy kitchen reference to help you with portion planning for parties and holidays? Waste Free Kitchen Handbook by Dana Gunders can help you not only plan better for your holiday meals this year, but also provides guidance on how to get the most of what’s in your refrigerator year-round. Author Gunders, who is a staff scientist with the National Resources Defense Council, brought the food waste issue into the mainstream several years ago when the NRDC published her insightful report, Wasted: How America Is Losing 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill.” Gunders knows food waste, and now she’s helping the rest of us do something about it.

A compendium of information for wasting less

A compendium of information for wasting less

Waste Free Kitchen Handbook is a colorful, easy-to-read, 200-page kitchen reference. Following a brief introduction, in which Gunders gives an overview of the food waste problem and contributing factors, the body of the guide is divided into three parts: Strategies for Everyday Life, Recipes, and Directory.

The first part — Strategies for Everyday Life — is comprised of six chapters that focus on how we can reduce food waste on a daily basis, from a grocery shopping strategy to meal planning to best practices for food storage. The book even includes sample meal-planning templates that you can copy and tape to your fridge! And there’s no expectation of perfection here, in fact, Gunders recommends scheduling a “lazy night” or two into weekly meal planning to accommodate those evenings when you just don’t want to cook dinner.meal-planning-template

The “Smarter Storage” chapter provides some colorful, useful graphics for effective food storage in your refrigerator and freezer — including demystification of the wilter crisper drawers. Yes, finally, a guide to what you should be storing in the crisper drawers and how those things really work! The “Kitchen Setup” chapter provides practical tips on how to organize your kitchen for efficient food storage, as well as giving a list of essential kitchen equipment. Regardless of whether you’re an experienced cook or a newbie to the kitchen, you’ll find useful information here.

Portion planning is something many of us struggle with, and Gunders covers that topic in two helpful charts: “How Much Should I Make?” for daily meal planning (adult and child portion sizes) and a larger “Party Portion Planning” chart that tells you how much to make for one person, 25 people, and a crowd of 50. And when it comes to leftovers, you’ll learn what’s safe to eat, how long can to keep it, and even a list of what you can share with your canine family members.

Part two, Recipes, is a collection of 20 “use it up” recipes for salvaging food on the brink. The recipe collection is nothing fancy, but rather focuses on practical, easy-to-manage, dinner-at-home dishes, such as chilaquiles, soups, and salads. Each recipe contains a brief summary of the ingredients you’ll use up, making the recipe section easily scannable and functional. If, for example, you know you need to use up vegetables, your options include the Free-for-All Frittata, Fried Rice, or Light Chicken Salad, to name a few.

Got leftover pasta, a protein, and some vegetables? There's a waste-less recipe for that!

Got leftover pasta, a protein, and some vegetables? There’s a waste-less recipe for that!

On first read, I thought this section was a bit simple and was hoping for more recipes (although the Sour Milk Pancakes have piqued my interest!). However, after a second read, I realized that Gunders has provided some solid recipes that can also provide the foundation for those who have the time or creativity to get fancier. More important, for the time-pressed, these recipes will get dinner on the table in a reasonable amount of time while reducing food waste. Win-win.

The final part, Directory, is my favorite. It’s an inclusive guide that answers those nagging questions about how to optimize the lifespan of the fresh ingredients and pantry staples that you buy regularly, including produce, proteins, dairy, and oils and condiments. For each item, Gunders summarizes optimal freshness details, where and how to store an item, and whether or not it can (or should) be frozen. No more wondering “can I freeze this?” “how long is it good?” or “should I store on the counter or in the refrigerator?” (Yes, Virginia, you can freeze herbs!) Even if you’ve got years of kitchen experience, this handy section collects all of this essential food info in one place.

Everything you need to know about reducing food waste, ingredient by ingredient

Everything you need to know about reducing food waste, ingredient by ingredient

Throughout the book, Gunders’ tone is knowledgable, yet reassuring. Her expertise comes through, and it’s clear that she’s done her research (see the Notes section for sources), but she also admits she’s as challenged as anyone when it comes to managing food waste at home. Gunders speaks of managing food waste as a journey and encourages the reader to think differently about what goes to waste and why.

Waste Free Kitchen Handbook is a guide for eaters and should be in every kitchen. It’s filled with useful information about food waste and what we can all do to reduce the problem in our own homes.

Waste-Less Wednesday: The Latest in Food Waste

September 30, 2015 § Leave a comment

Starting today, Waste-Less Wednesday is getting a bit of a change up. In addition to tips and recipes for reducing food waste at home, you’ll be seeing the occasional news roundup of food waste topics, near and far.

While I think about food waste at a micro level — i.e., my kitchen and local food system — recent conversations with friends have reminded me to look beyond the 650. Conversations about food waste are now happening with more frequency at the national and international levels, thanks to chefs, writers, and food activists. We’re learning more about the impact of food waste on hunger, loss of resources, and climate change — and how all of us can be a part of the food waste solution. Here’s a roundup of what you might have missed recently.

September 29, 2015
Book Release: Waste Free Kitchen Handbook: A guide to eating well and saving money by wasting less food by Dana Gunders

Photo via Amazon.com

Photo via Amazon.com

Dana Gunders, who authored the pivotal food-waste report “Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill,” is a Project Scientist with the National Resources Defense Council in San Francisco. I first heard her speak about food waste during a panel talk co-hosted by CUESA last year. During this educational and inspiring discussion, Gunders gave a most memorable description of consumer food waste: “It’s like going to the grocery store, buying five bags of groceries and dropping two of them in the parking lot — and leaving them there.”

As a scientist, Gunders wanted to understand what consumers needed to know to reduce food waste. Specifically, what did they need to know about buying, storing, and cooking food, including food that seems ready for the compost pile? For example: “When you’re standing in your kitchen with a wrinkled tomato, what do you need to know in order not to waste it?” In addition to practical information, the book also contains what Gunders calls “use-it-up recipes” for ingredients on the brink (or maybe just a little bit past).

Get the whole story in just 2 Minutes.
Read Dana Gunders’ blog post about the book release: Why I Wrote the Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook | Dana Gunders’s Blog | Switchboard, from NRDC

September 28, 2015
United Nations’ Food Waste Luncheon is All About the Leftovers

Photo via @UN_spokesperson (Twitter)

Photo via @UN_spokesperson (Twitter)

Blue Hill and wastED Chef Dan Barber and former White House Chef Sam Kass recently created a luncheon of repurposed food for 30 world leaders. The meal, which included dishes created for and served at Barber’s wastED pop-up restaurant brought attention to the issues of global food waste, loss of resources, and climate change. The printed menu included a description of each course, but also the source of each ingredient. The first course, “Landfill salad,” consisted of “vegetable scraps, rejected apples and pears, and chickpea water.”

Get the 2-Minute version of the UN Food Waste Luncheon:
“UN Serves ‘Landfill Salad’ to Highlight Food Waste”

September 25, 2015
More Than a Billion Pounds of Seafood Going to Waste Every Year

Fresh, wild Alaskan salmon fillets, purchased in the 650

Fresh, wild Alaskan salmon fillets, purchased in the 650

Food waste doesn’t occur just on the farm or in the food-manufacturing plants. According to a recent NPR article, almost half of the US seafood supply ends up wasted. While seafood waste happens throughout the system — from boat to processor to consumer — “consumers are far and away wasting more seafood than any other group,” tossing out 1.3 billion pounds of seafood annually. Some of this seafood is purchased and never eaten, and some is “plate waste” that ends up in pet food bowls or the garbage.

Consumers aren’t solely to blame for seafood waste. Processing plants discard the “less desirable” parts of fish (think: fish heads) in favor of supermarket-perfect pieces. Commercial fisheries contribute to waste as well, through bycatch. Bycatch are the unwanted fish and other marine life that are caught in addition to the target species. Efforts are being made in the industry to reduce bycatch, but it’s still a problem.

Want to know more? Check out this 3-minute read on the state of seafood waste in the US:
Via NPR | The Salt | “We Leave Half Of All Our Seafood On The Table (And In The Trash) by Alistair Bland

September 16, 2015
USDA and EPA Set National Food Waste Reduction Target
Food waste hits the big time — and that’s a good thing! The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have issued a nationwide food-waste challenge: a 50% reduction of food waste by 2030. A variety of big-name US food retailers, agriculture industry reps, and charitable organizations have already signed on with support (Albertsons, Wegmans Markets, and City Harvest, just to name a few.)

Read the press release in 2½ minutes or less:
Food Retailers, Agriculture Industry, and Charitable Organizations Support First National Goal to Reduce Food Waste by 50 Percent by 2030.”

Want more detail? Check out the Office of the Chief Economist’s web page on food waste.

What’s your food waste story? Share in the comments below.

Waste-Less Wednesday: Front-End Solutions

April 29, 2015 § 2 Comments

Did you happen to catch the film “Just Eat It” on MSNBC last week? The 74-minute documentary, produced and directed by Canadian filmmaking couple Grant Baldwin and Jenny Rustemeyer, examines the topic of food waste from field to table in North America. If you missed it, here’s a taste. (For more information about the film and additional screenings, check out the website.)

Just Eat It – A food waste story (Official Trailer) from Grant Baldwin on Vimeo.

No boring facts-and-figures, talking-heads approach, this film chronicles the couple’s adventures and reactions during their six-month project to give up grocery shopping and live solely on reclaimed food. That’s right, from asking for out-of-date products and ugly vegetables at the supermarket to outright dumpster diving at wholesale food-supply locations, they not only eat, but eat well for duration of the project. (Spoiler alert: They don’t actually eat food scraps, but rather reclaim perfectly good packaged food discarded by food businesses, such as distributors and grocery stores.)

The film intersperses the couples’ experiences in acquiring food with eye-opening details direct from farmers and food-waste educators about how and where food waste occurs all along the food supply chain. Most staggering fact? 40% of all food, from farm to factory to table is wasted — left in the field, considered unsaleable by grocery stores, and just plain thrown in the garbage. Cameron Anderson, Harvest Manager for grower Pacific International says in the film that 20-30% of food grown is left in the field. Why? It’s a two-part issue: supermarket specifications for produce and customer expectations about appearance.

Just Eat It – Field Waste – Cauliflower (Deleted Scene) from Grant Baldwin on Vimeo.

Supermarkets refuse otherwise perfectly fresh and edible produce because it doesn’t meet specifications for size or beauty. And customers support this approach by seeking out the perfect produce. How many times have you passed by bruised apples or weird-looking squash? (Confession: I’ve done it.) Even farmers’ markets, generally known as a good source of fresh and local food, aren’t immune. In the film, one market supplier points out a lone bunch of greens at his stand, saying that it won’t sell because customers think there’s something wrong with it if there’s only one left.

In terms of what we buy and take home, Dana Gunders, Project Scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), says that 15-25% goes to waste. (I first heard these statistics from Dana during CUESA’s “Beyond the Green Bin” panel talk last year.) Putting that in practical terms, she says it’s like “buying four bags of groceries, dropping one in the parking lot, and leaving it there.” How does it happen? We over-estimate what we need, don’t use food before it spoils, throw away packaged or canned food because we’re not clear about what “best by” dates really mean, and so on.

Putting a dollar value on it, $165 billion worth of food is lost or thrown away annually in the US. And yet, approximately 17% of all Americans struggle with food insecurity, which means that at some point during the year, about 54 million people lack a reliable source of food. (Bringing it home, food insecurity in San Mateo county is close to 12% of our population.) At a macro level, we need a way to transfer that $165 billion of unnecessary food waste to those who lack a steady source of nourishment.

Wasted food is a waste of resources, which, when you think about it translates to even more dollars lost: the labor, water, and supplies that go into producing that food. Given our worsening drought conditions here in California, wasting food will have an even higher cost.

Food waste, then, can seem like an overwhelming and insurmountable problem. Indeed, social media reactions during the film included surprise, guilt, and anger at the amount and cost of waste. But knowledge is power, and as Maya Angelou said:  “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Films like “Just Eat It” and panel talks like CUESA’s “Beyond the Green Bin,” provide the information we need to “do better.”

So while I’ve posted about ways to reduce food waste on the back end — using, salvaging, or preserving what you already have — let’s talk about ways to get ahead of food waste on the front end, before you’re making that “toss or keep” decision.

Be a Man (or Woman) with a Plan
Before you head out to the grocery store, take a quick inventory at home. What food staples do you need? What are your go-to foods for those quick weekday meals and how much do you have on hand? Having a plan before you get to the market or grocery store will not only save time, but also means that you’ll reduce the possibility of impulse buys or “just in case” purchases. (On that same note: don’t shop hungry.)

Planning ahead will also leave you some leeway for those unexpected dinners out or nights when you’re just too tired or overwhelmed to cook and pizza is on speed dial. Which leads me to why it’s a good idea to shop “European-style”: buy smaller quantities and shop more often.

Shop Euro-Style
Time is a limited resource, so many of us try to consolidate a week’s worth of food shopping into one trip. Believe me, I get it. However, what that means is we’re often overbuying and unable to use produce (some of which has a very short shelf life) before it starts to fade. If you’re wasting food because you’re trying to save time, and that wasted food has a cost beyond what you paid for it at the grocery store, what are you really saving?

Consider purchasing enough food for about a few days at a time and commit to using it up before shopping again. Your food will be fresher, and you’ll use more of it. Maybe you visit the grocery store once a week for proteins and packaged goods and the farmers’ market on the weekends for produce. Find something that works for your schedule and lifestyle. Don’t have time to get out? Sign up for a CSA delivery (or choose one that drops off at a central point in your neighborhood) or a broader delivery service like Good Eggs.

Make a List
Make a list of perishable items to use first and keep it on your refrigerator. For example, delicate herbs, salad greens and tomatoes have short shelf lives and should probably at the top of your “use first” list. You can also use this list as a place to jot ideas for recipes you want to make and ways to use up certain produce items.fridge-list

Take It Home
Dining out and takeout/delivery contributes to food waste in a couple of ways. As I mentioned above, it’s often the reason we don’t get through all of the fresh food purchased from the grocery store or market. But restaurants are also giving us large portion sizes — often more than most people can eat in one sitting.

Consider taking home whatever you don’t eat during the meal. More often than not, I can get at least one more meal out of restaurant leftovers, sometimes two. Or you can use the restaurant leftovers to create a new meal using what you have at home. Case in point: I recently ordered vegetable biryani (rice dish) from my favorite Indian place. Talk about value for money — I had enough biryani for three days’ worth of meals! Indian cooking is not in my skillset, but with the biryani as the foundation, I added my own steamed vegetables and protein to create some deliciously spicy dishes and saved myself some cooking time.

Food waste is not an insurmountable problem and changing how we shop for, store, and cook food can make a huge difference. How are you working to reduce food waste on the front end? Do you shop “Euro style”? Designate a place in the fridge for “use first” items? Share your ideas in the comments or on our Facebook page!

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing entries tagged with Dana Gunders at 650Food.