Frugal vegans don’t waste food.

November 11th, 2010 2:38 pm by Kelly Garbato

Rosie the Riveter

J. Howard Miller’s “We Can Do It!”, commonly mistaken to be Rosie the Riveter.
CC image via Wiki.
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A recent study in the Journal of Environmental Science & Technology estimated that Americans waste nearly 350 million barrels of oil per year in the form of food. These figures represent 2% of our annual energy consumption, and are based in part on an even more shocking 1995 estimate that 27% of our edible food is wasted – simply thrown away – at both the individual and institutional levels.

While much of this waste happens before food even reaches consumers – for example, produce that looks “irregular” or is marred by “blemishes” may be tossed by farmers or rejected by grocers – who among us can say that she’s never thrown out a half-finished bag of moldy rolls or composted the odd bruised apple? If just half of this waste occurs in our own kitchens and pantries, then the average American is tossing nearly 15% of the food she purchases straight into the garbage.* By cutting out this waste, then, we could potentially save 15% on our grocery bills.

Reporting on these findings over at Salon, Francis Lam offers seven tasty ways to stop wasting food – six of which are vegan or vegan-friendly. These include:

  1. Be creative about stale bread;
  2. Freeze in-danger-of-expiring (nondairy) milk;
  3. Save trim and scraps for stock;
  4. Sauté leftover pasta, rice, and cooked grains (or, you know, just reheat and it, if you’re not a food snob like Lam);
  5. Repurpose leftover sauces, soups, and (vegetable) meat juices to add flavor to other dishes; and
  6. Don’t toss an item just because it’s expired – many foodstuffs are edible past date. Trust your senses and use good judgment.

Building on Lam’s list, Jordan @ vegansaurus! recommends that you be a more awesome vegan by:

  1. Making impromptu soups, stews, and curries with neglected veggies;
  2. Baking fruit crisps and crumbles with overripe apples and such;
  3. Liquefying extra produce into smoothies;
  4. Investing in high quality food storage containers; and
  5. Buying a spiffy new lunch set that will hopefully inspire you to take leftovers to work.

Of course, because I am a totally awesome – and usually-frugal – vegan, I have a few additional suggestions to add to the mix!

  • Prepare and freeze surplus fruits and veggies. If you find yourself with more fresh produce than you can reasonably use before it goes bad, freeze it for later use. Many fruits and vegetables can be stored safely in deep freeze: apples, bananas, carrots, zucchini, peppers, jalapenos, blueberries, strawberries, potatoes – I’ve had good luck with all of these. For added convenience, prep the ingredients before storage: wash, peel and/or dice them so that you can just grab them to go in the future. This can also help to cut down on the storage space required by certain items, e.g., those that are hollow (peppers) or have inedible cores (cantaloupes). Check out this guide from the University of Minnesota to get you started.
  • Prepare and freeze dishes for use at a later date. Even more convenient than freezing prepared ingredients: preparing and freezing entire meals! This is a great option for vegans on the go, who might otherwise be stuck noming on overly expensive frozen dinners or settling for cold cereal at the end of a long day.
  • Freeze extra baked goods. Are you noticing a theme here? The freezer is your friend! Defrosted cookies may not taste as good as freshly baked ones – but they’re far, far yummier than moldy ones! Donuts, turnovers, bagels, bread and rolls – I’ve frozen them all. As long as you eat them quickly (i.e., within a month or two), you’ll hardly be able to tell the difference.
  • Share with others. Okay, so this tip isn’t going to save you any money in the short run, but it does tackle the issue of food waste. If you find yourself in possession of more fruit or veggies than you can eat on your own, gift some to a friend, coworker, family member – or even stranger – in need. Whether you believe in karma or subscribe to the golden rule, this kind deed may even come back to you in the future!
  • Your dog kids need to eat, too! If your dog friends are anything like mine, they dig many of the same foods as us: carrots, peppers, apples, bananas, snow peas, lettuce, potatoes (sweet potatoes, can I get a hell yeah!), tofu, you name it! (Ditto: other omnivorous and herbivorous critters.) Many fruits and veggies make for a yummy snack; in the summer time, frozen produce is an especially refreshing treat. If you cook for your nonhuman kids, incorporate extra foodstuffs into their menu. Just be careful to avoid dangerous and problem foods, mkay?
  • When shopping, underestimate the amount of fresh items you’ll need by 15-20%. If Americans overbuy by +/- 15%, then it stands to reason that we should undershoot by as much when shopping, right? Start out low to avoid buying more than you need, and then adjust your shopping list every week until you’ve found that sweet spot. If you run out of fresh produce or baked goods before your next scheduled shopping trip, you can always make an early run – or survive on the frozen leftovers from previous shopping sprees! Plus, there’s always canned goods and homemade bread, yes?
  • Go dumpster diving! The above tips only deal with individual waste; what of waste at the commercial level? While we only have limited control over the actions of others – particularly collective others, such as businesses and industries – we can take small steps toward reducing waste locally, in our own neighborhoods. Take, if you will, dumpster diving! Businesses throw out all manner of expired – but still edible – foodstuffs (and other items, too). By salvaging these, you both rescue them from the landfill and reduce the amount of “new” items you consume as well.

    If you’re new to dumpster diving, be sure to do your research beforehand. Be informed about local laws and customs; know which businesses are amenable to the practice; and, if you’re well off enough that dumpster diving isn’t an economic necessity for you, don’t dive in areas that support a low-income or homeless population. If you know an experienced diver, you may want to accompany him or her before setting off on your own. Go to http://freegan.info for more.

  • Encourage businesses to donate unwanted goods to food banks and other non-profit organizations. Also falling under the rubric of curbing institutional waste is this last tip, which is most likely to find success with small and locally owned businesses (less bureaucracy!). If you notice that your grocer is tossing out a lot of edible food and usable items (for example, metal that can be sold for scrap), approach the manager or owner with a list of suggested charities in need of the items in question.

    Do your homework beforehand; you want to make this as simple as possible for the powers that be! Spell out potential benefits, stressing how they outweigh the costs: donations equal tax breaks, a reduction in waste disposal fees, and all the great PR you can exploit!

    Be creative: if there are any animal sanctuaries in the area, get in touch with them to see whether they can make use of past-date produce (or even packaged foods). Don’t overlook “pet” stores, either: our nonhuman friends also suffer in rough economic times, and “pet” food banks have sprouted up across the country in order to provide dog and cat food to families in need.

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    World War II poster - Save Food

    In this vintage, WWII propaganda poster, the president sternly-but-lovingly (he’s our super-dad, yo!) issues the following reminder to the American public: “Hunger does not breed reform; it breeds madness and all the ugly distemper that makes an ordered life impossible…the future belongs to those who prove themselves the true friends of mankind.” (And human and animal-kind, I should add.) “Save food, don’t waste it,” signed the United States Food Administration.
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    * Indeed, in 2003, researchers teamed up with the USDA to study food waste in American households. Tim Jones, a researcher at the University of Arizona’s Contemporary Archaeology Project, and his students spent a year surveying 200 families in Delaware and Arizona about their purchasing habits, tallying grocery receipts, and combing through household garbage in order to collect and weigh wasted food. Their results? The average American household throws out an astounding 470 pounds of food per year – or 14% of all food brought into the house.
     

    What about you vegan mofo’s? How do you keep food from ending up in the trash bin?

     
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    9 Responses to “Frugal vegans don’t waste food.”

    1. pharaohscat Says:

      Thanks for the great tips!!! Totally agree!!!!

    2. Molly Says:

      What a great post! I often bake treats for the pups out of our dog-safe leftovers. We’ve become very good at using the food we have. Here’s hoping more people follow suit!

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