Five home hacks to reduce your food waste footprint

Cutting food waste starts with you.

In our modern culture of endless choice and consumerism, food waste has become a hot topic among food policy advocates and environmental officials. According to the Food Waste Alliance, about 80 billion pounds of food are relegated to American landfills each year, which contributes to increased greenhouse gas emissions and billions of dollars down the drain. If aggregated into one giant heap, this amount of wasted food would fill the Rose Bowl Stadium, which would make for a pretty pungent football game. 

Fortunately, as of this past fall, the USDA and EPA have teamed up in an effort to cut U.S. food waste in half by the year 2030. While this goal addresses over half of the food waste in landfills, it fails to address the nearly 50 percent of food waste generated by residential and consumer sectors. Therefore, it is important to recognize ourselves as part of the solution on an individual level. Below are five easy strategies for repurposing and revitalizing food right in your home kitchen. Such creative, simple solutions can help reduce personal food waste while consequently stretching your food budget!

  1. Look for inner beauty - When shopping for fruits and veggies, don’t judge a book by its cover! Just because produce might look odd or unconventional, they’re still as delicious and nutritious as their more traditionally-shaped peers. Oftentimes these ugly veggies are deemed “inedible” by shoppers and left to rot in the store, eventually to be thrown away. Save the ugly produce! Reserve bizarre fruits for smoothies and jams. Chop up peculiar veggies for soups, stews, sauces, and salads. Chop up peculiar veggies for soups, stews, sauces, and salads. You can also oven roast them, or celebrate their eccentricity and unique charm by featuring them whole in a crudité.  More and more companies, such as Imperfect Produce in the Bay area and Hungry Harvest on the east coast, are hopping on the ugly produce bandwagon. Additionally, super markets such as Raley’s in California have started discounting misshapen produce to lessen their food waste footprint. While such systematic initiatives have not yet sprouted in Michigan, take it upon yourself to be an ugly produce hero and rescue these poor edible outcasts. For more ugly inspiration, follow @UglyFruitandVeg on social media.
  2. Create a broth bag - This genius idea from The Kitchn.com gives purpose back to all those vegetable “odds and ends” and redirects them into flavor-boosters for soups, stews, stocks, and sauces. When cutting up your vegetables, save those nubs, cobs, ends, and tops and freeze them in a container or freezer bag for a later use. Otherwise demoted to the garbage heap, these odds and ends are filled with optimal flavor potential. For decadent, next-level soup, add your leftover hard cheese rinds to the broth bag and freeze.
  3. Preserve your herbs - Chop your leftover herbs and freeze in ice cube trays topped with a bit of olive oil. Once frozen, pop them out and store in freezer bags for a later use. Drop cubes into sauces, soups, stews, or any other time you’re in the market for an herb-infused olive oil.
  4. When in doubt, make pesto - Pesto is traditionally a sauce made with basil, parmesan cheese, olive oil, pine nuts (or walnuts), garlic, and lemon. Get creative by using kale, carrot tops, or beet greens along with or instead of the basil. The USDA Mixing Bowl offers a few pesto recipes to try.
  5. For all other food scraps: compost - You’ve heard of composting. You know, that cyclic concept of conserving all of your food scraps, coffee grounds, egg shells, peels, and skins and turning them back into fertile soil for future growth. Though it sounds idyllic, it is oftentimes associated with smelly, rotting food, which can be a major barrier for those considering composting. Services such as Organicycle and other similar programs aim to eliminate that barrier and make composting about as hassle and smell-free as it gets with curb-side pick-up for a low cost. And for those ambitious gardening folk out there, MSU Extension offers programs and resources to manage your own compost pile!

We can all do our part to reduce food waste. Just employing a few of these tricks can cut back on your residential waste and might even save you a buck or two! For additional resources on food waste reduction, head to MSU Extension.

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