Has it been hot enough for you? After weeks of pleasant weather and early “June gloom” in the mornings, the heat has arrived with a vengeance. Family members, who had come in from the cooler climes of New York and Oregon to attend my son’s graduation this past week, nearly melted from the scorching temperatures.
With the hotter conditions comes not only the expected things, like higher electricity bills and frequent visits to the pool, but also the unexpected, namely food waste. Ever leave fruit on the kitchen counter to ripen for a few days only to find it has quickly rotted?
After discovering a book called “Waste Free Kitchen Handbook: A guide to eating well and saving money by wasting less food,” I became intrigued by the statistics on food waste.
I was astounded to learn that 40 percent of all food in America goes uneaten and is thrown away. And it’s not the farmers, grocery stores or restaurants that are wasting the majority of that; it’s us, the consumers, who are responsible for most of it.
Now, I don’t think any of us walks out of the supermarket with five bags of groceries with the intent on throwing away everything in two of those bags, but that’s what we do – the cilantro that became liquid brown, the extra pasta leftovers that we didn’t wind up eating – it all adds up.
On average, the American household of four throws away $120 a month in uneaten food. For that same family of four, that can amount to anywhere from $1,300 to $2,200 annually in food that is tossed.
Written by Dana Gunders, a staff scientist of the National Resources Defense Council, the Waste Free Kitchen Handbook has use-it-up recipes, practical strategies and a reference section on how to store, freeze and creatively use up 85 common foods.
There are several useful tips suggested by Gunders for avoiding food waste, the first one being learning to shop wisely. Planning weekly meals, having a shopping list, buying from bulk bins, and avoiding impulse purchases are all keys to prudent shopping. Overbuying is a major culprit in food going uneaten.
Another recommendation is to understand expiration dates. Most people are confused by the “sell by” and “use by” dates printed on packaging. These dates are not federally regulated and are not an indication of food safety (except for certain baby foods), but instead are manufacturer suggestions for peak quality.
Many foods can be safely eaten after the “sell by” date on their packaging. Gunders recommends people rely on their senses of smell and sight to distinguish when ingredients in our food have gone bad, rather than on “sell by” dates. She says we should stop being afraid of our food.
Buying imperfect produce and products is a third guideline. Many people, myself included, have become accustomed to purchasing perfect looking produce. But this consumer demand for perfection means fruits and vegetables with variations in size, color and shape are left to rot at the farm or grocery store. A misshapen apple is still an apple that can be enjoyed raw or baked in a pie.
The fourth tip is one that I am going to start doing today: freezing unused ingredients. Freezing extends the life of fruit, vegetables, cooked meat or fish, leftovers and pretty much anything. I am guilty of tossing wrinkled tomatoes and limp celery, but I am learning to chop those up and seal them in a freezer bag for later use.
Because I am incorporating more of the healthy fats into my family’s diet this year, I glommed onto this recipe because of its use of overripe avocados. I found this to be surprisingly smooth and delicious, as well as a gluten-free and dairy-free treat for the hot days ahead.
Avocado Chocolate Mousse
2 large very ripe avocados
1/2 cup maple syrup
6 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. salt
Toppings: whipped cream, berries, chopped toasted nuts, chocolate shavings.
Scoop flesh of avocados into a food processor or blender. Add maple syrup, cocoa powder, vanilla and salt.
Process until smooth. Scrape into a bowl and refrigerate until cold. Serve with toppings.