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Food

How to Reduce Food Waste and Repurpose Scraps

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jul 22, 2020 • 3 min read

In the United States, it’s estimated that up to 40 percent of edible food that is safe to eat is thrown out. In 2010, that amounted to 133 billion pounds of food loss. Worldwide, total food waste is estimated at about 1.3 billion tons of food.

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How to Reduce Food Waste

Food waste generates a huge amount of greenhouse gases, specifically methane—one of the primary contributors to climate change. Addressing the ways you buy and use food is one of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce your carbon footprint.

  • Tailor your shopping list. Adjusting the amount of food you purchase each week at the grocery store can reduce waste and help keep overeating and portion sizes in check. While it’s tempting to purchase more food than you need, careful meal planning prior to grocery shopping will reduce your overall food waste. Tailor your shopping list to your weekly food needs: Prior to shopping, read over ingredient lists of any recipes you’ll be making, and check off what you already have to avoid doubling up.
  • Shop by season. If you already have a strong sense of how much food you actually need, spend time at a farmers’ market shopping by seasonality. Ask questions at the market about ripeness, perishability, recommended preparation, and the farmers’ upcoming season of fruits and vegetables. Buy items that inspire you to cook, and plan your menus when you get home.
  • Compost. The majority of discarded food heads straight for the landfill, but some counties or cities have composting programs in place to tackle food waste. If your area doesn’t have a composting program, and you have some backyard space, you can create your own compost pile, which will be an invaluable resource to your garden and soil health. (For advanced composters who want to take their house plant habit to the next level, there are even odor-free tumblers small enough to fit in an apartment.) Look into different styles of composting to see which one fits your lifestyle.
  • Change the way you store food. Research which ingredients fare best at room temperature and which require refrigeration. Then, follow the “first in, first out” rule by storing new purchases behind older ones, and dedicate one meal a week to a creative fridge clean-out session: Pull out all the perishable things hiding in the back of the crisper and treat it like a cooking show challenge. If you love lists, keep one visible on the fridge with a reminder of everything that needs to be used—that way, when you’re riffing on your usual weeknight routine, you’ll know which players are available at a glance.
  • Preserve. When in doubt, freeze first. If you can’t decide the freshness of your veggies or fruits, you can always freeze them for use in future smoothies or stir-fries. You can also turn them into pickles or jam: Pickled watermelon rinds are a classic Southern addition to salads and sandwiches, and electric red pickled chard stems are a stunning addition to any pickle plate or cheese board. Bruised fruits are terrific candidates for end-of-season jam.

How to Repurpose Food Scraps

When preparing fruits and vegetables, it’s important to be mindful of your trimming—most food scraps are incredibly easy to repurpose.

  • Leafy greens: You can turn the ribs of leafy greens like kale or carrot tops into pesto, or add them to smoothies. You can sauté any salvageable beet and radish greens with a bit of garlic for an easy side dish: Remove and use the greens of root vegetables first. Loose beets or radishes will last just as long on their own, and this way the greens won’t wilt and begin to rot before you can cook with them.
  • Stale bread: Turn stale bread into breadcrumbs and store them in the freezer for your next casserole.
  • Chicken bones and shrimp shells: Get one final use out of chicken bones and shrimp shells by freezing them for stock.
  • Soured milk: Make homemade yogurt from soured milk, or use it to make buttermilk for pancakes and biscuits.
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