Save the planet: Don’t fritter your food away

When we overbuy, overcook and wind up making garbage out of our excess, we aren’t thinking of the respect we owe our God-given food.

When we overbuy, overcook and wind up making garbage out of our excess, we aren’t thinking of the respect we owe our God-given food • By MIRIAM KRESH Many of us will be shopping and cooking up a storm before the holidays, packing our refrigerators and pantries with edibles to make sure we’ll have enough. The problem with “enough” is that it often becomes too much. We wind up throwing out leftovers, shaking our heads over the waste but throwing out good food all the same.
Consider the effects of food waste on the environment. Can it be that our kitchen garbage is causing climate change? Indirectly, yes. Food decomposing in landfills creates methane gas, which adds 20 times more than carbon dioxide to atmospheric gases. If you’ve followed analyses of climate change, you’ll know that these gases unleash a process that warms the Earth – the greenhouse effect. The NASA website provides a list of dire consequences from the greenhouse effect. These include shorter but more severe winters; longer, hotter and drier summers; drought; more tropical storms; decreased agricultural production; more disease; and increased world hunger.
The food we throw out is not going to come back.
The dusty old adage “Waste not, want not” takes on a new shine when you relate what’s in our garbage today to food (in)security tomorrow.
The Torah states that even when besieging a town in war, one may eat fruit from its trees but not cut them down (Deuteronomy 20:19). The sages extrapolated this law to a principle of responsibility towards all resources. So now consider the resources invested in our food. Like water, for example, from crop irrigation to rinsing fruit and vegetables so they’ll look good in the markets. Electricity. Gas. Manpower.
When we overbuy, overcook and wind up making garbage out of our excess, we aren’t thinking of the respect we owe our God-given food. And finishing up the last bits so as not to waste food contributes nothing good to our health or waistlines.
Before getting caught up in the pre-holiday cooking frenzy, make a three-point plan outlining your menus, shopping and cooking schedule. The effort will pay off in reduced spending – always welcome when dealing with holiday expenses – and well-organized meals, with less to throw out at the end.
Plan each meal ahead and write detailed menus. Calculate how much of each recipe people will eat. Small children often want only a chicken drumstick, while your weightlifting uncle will probably want a goodly portion of roast fowl.
Take people’s food preferences into account. In my house, there are only two fans of chicken liver. I serve two portions and freeze excess in single portions.
When the fancy for liver strikes them, I have it ready to thaw out and serve. Family members who don’t like liver get grilled chicken wings instead – another freezable food.
Consult your menus and make a shopping list that includes every ingredient. Then go shopping and buy only what’s on the list. The trick is to resist impulse buying. Often, that specialty item that inspires dreams of a spectacular new dessert or intriguing side dish will sit in the refrigerator and go bad because as the holiday approaches and pressure mounts, you’re more likely to reach for old familiar recipes.
Invest in several sizes of freezer or refrigerator containers for leftovers. Then make sure to use up the leftovers. Go by the “first in, first out” rule. Store leftovers in the front of refrigerator shelves, so you’ll see and remember them. Push newer leftovers to the back of the shelves. Their turn will come as you finish the older ones. Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland, turns his leftover containers upside down to make their contents easy to see.
Serve smaller hallot and cakes. The family can get very tired of sitting down twice a day to the same bread over two or three days, so bake, or buy, individual rolls or smaller loaves. Have two kinds of halla in your freezer and thaw out one kind at a time, to keep interest high and waste down. I like to pull out Yemenite flatbreads on the second day of the holiday, going back to halla on the following Shabbat.
Think ahead of how you might combine leftovers. For example, a large sheet cake may be served alone once, then the next day (or the next), served with yesterday’s ice cream. If cooking fish heads for Rosh Hashana’s simanim, put onion, celery, a carrot, a tomato and a bay leaf in the water. Then you’ll have a fish stock which, when strained, makes a light alternative to chicken soup. Use any excess soup to cook rice or other grains.
At the table, serve smaller portions. We enjoy the flush of generosity that comes with serving up a nice big portion, but overloaded plates often equal wasted food. Family and guests can always take seconds if they want.
When plates are over-filled, the eater gets overwhelmed and begins to lose his or her appetite. That’s more food scraped into the garbage bin.
Enthusiastic cooks tend to envision abundant, impressive meals, but it’s best to keep the number of dishes reasonable. Less waste and less stress for you, the hard-working cook. The trick is to go over your menus and omit at least one side dish from each meal. Plan on only one dessert per menu. By the second day, families are often tired of so many festive meals, anyway. The Italians have a wise rule for maximum enjoyment of good food: Only three flavors on the plate at one time.
When people are sitting around the table sated with your great home cooking, fruit is often more welcome than a rich dessert. Search for ideas like peaches sliced into cold white wine, served in individual cups. Or old-fashioned baked apples garnished with a sweet crumble. Fruit-based desserts are festive, sweet but not filling, and involve almost no work to prepare.
They’re healthier than artery-clogging, margarineand sugar-rich confections, not to mention easier on the wallet. And in terms of waste, they’re less likely to wind up in the bin because they’re light.
Post-holiday, plan at least one meat meal and one dairy meal that use up leftovers. Stuff shredded chicken or meat into sandwiches or omelets or fried rice. Blend fruit that’s going soft into smoothies. Leftover halla makes great French toast. Make a dipping sauce or gravy to dress up vegetables. Never throw away the drippings left from roasting poultry or meat. That precious liquid is full of flavor and nutrition, so save it as a base for sauce or add it to your next meatloaf or batch of hamburgers.
Once you have your meals planned, start cooking to freeze or store away. Label everything because you’ll never remember if that brown mush in the container is apple chutney or chunky bean soup.
Write the contents, date and portion size directly onto the container with a marker pen. It will wash off eventually.
You’ll feel the benefit of avoiding food waste in less spending, less stress in the kitchen and an easy conscience. It’s a very good way to start the year 5774.