NYT Reaction

As many of you know, The New York Times ran a piece Sunday on food waste. For my money, it provided a solid picture of the issue, and I’m not just saying that because I’m quoted in it. Heck, a couple items in the article were news to me.

Sure, the article could have used a bit more international context, but I know from experience that that’s the hardest info to find. While the piece included that food waste comprises 12 percent of the waste Americans generate, I’d add that it makes up 18 percent of the waste sent to landfills. That’s a reflection of how little food waste is recycled (composted) compared to other items.photo by Thomas Hawk (via Flickr)

Primarily, I’m encouraged to see food waste receive this (overdue) media attention. I know it’s something that nearly everyone has considered. As I’ve found at many a social gathering, the topic of wasted food seems to draw strong reactions from most folks.

To wit, the Times article sparked a humdinger of a commentary thread on Boing Boing (125 comments and counting). I’ll respond to a few of the responses on Monday after I’ve had a chance to wade through them all. In the meantime, what’s your reaction?

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  1. Bud
    Posted May 19, 2008 at 5:34 am | Permalink

    I’m here from the NYT link. I was a dumpster diver for several years retrieving food for my pigs and ultimately for myself back in the 70′s so I know waste.

    I’m about to retire and began gathering material for a cookbook titled “The Social Security Cookbook”. I examined my own situation and realized that I throw out more than 50% of the food I buy. Before cooking economical meals, I decided to tackle the waste issue.

    I got rid of my large refrigerator full of science projects and bought a 5 footer. I bought a 7 cubic foot freezer. I removed all the doors from my kitchen cabinets and dated the shelf contents with the month and year purchased. I started a compost pile using a black recycled plastic composter I purchased at Sam’s.

    A small refrigerator will not allow you to create new science projects, you run out of room. You buy smaller containers (which is more expensive, but the contents are consumed fully and quickly). I am considering canning/freezing again to preserve bulk purchases in smaller containers. I buy milk in “bricks”. I don’t refrigerate eggs, but I do break them in a container before adding them to other food just in case.
    The freezer is small but allows baking, frozen vegetables and meat (fish, chicken and pork) to be bulk purchased and processed into smaller portions. Reduces trips to the store to once a month.

    The kitchen cabinet door removal allows you to see what you own. Dating allows you to know how long you have stored something so you can adjust quantities. I buy canned fruit on sale, I never eat it. Eventually the cans swell and leak. I threw out 6 big cans of peaches. I never use tomato paste, I threw out 12 cans of paste. So it goes. If you are serious, you will keep a list of the contents and create a replacement list before shopping. I have come to realize I eat almost nothing that comes in a can except soup, fish/shellfish and beans. I have been buying and throwing away cans my whole life.

    I used to bake bread in a coal stove. Every once in a while I become a baker again. Soon after I have a bug problem. All packaged dry food needs handling and protection. If you keep them more than a short time, the whole flour and fat goes rancid (keep in freezer), crackers become stale, bugs move in. I freeze every dry good for two weeks in the freezer, fatty things like nuts stay in the freezer. Flour is placed in sturdy bug proof containers. Currently I have 150 pounds of different flavor rice. It will be all placed in quart canning jars for storage. One jar of each type will be placed in the kitchen, the rest stored in the basement pantry. I don’t buy economy size unless it can be broken down into small quantities.

    If I cook more than I can eat, I freeze it. I make my own “snacks”, burritos of all types (beef stew burritos? curried lamb burritos?). I cook a large pot of dry pinto beans and freeze most in canning/freezing jars (the jars have no “shoulders” so they can be frozen). I freeze leftover bones from chicken and pork. I make broth or toss a pork bone in rice when I boil it. I 3/4s cook spaghetti in bulk, cool it and oil it. I refrigerate or freeze it in individual portions. A dip in hot water or a run in the micro wave followed by a saute in a frying pan will refresh it.

    I don’t often cook a large lasagna and freeze portions, perhaps I like to cook. The burros are a different story, they are soooo convenient and portion control is inherent in the packaging. My bread is mostly flatbread which is kept frozen until a loaf is pried off and heated.

    I am growing vegetables again using the Square Foot Gardening technique and have reduced the waste to maybe a few peelings and a few bones a month. The bones are recycled in the woods. One day they are there and one day they are gone. I was lucky and found a styrofoam recycler several miles from my home. Cardboard, old magazines, paper, glass, some plastics are recycled leaving me with one bag of plastic food wrappers and plastic clam shell wrappers every two months. That bag goes to the dump.

    I keep a tub on the deck to catch roof run-off. I wash the jars and cans in the water before recycling. I also use it to water plants. I dump the water frequently even if unused to eliminate mosquito larva.


  2. Posted May 19, 2008 at 6:20 am | Permalink


    It is quite obvious that you have not been served a well-prepared side of brussel sprouts, say, steamed and then sauteed in butter or olive oil with finely minced onion and garlic. Until you are, leave brussel sprouts alone:)!

  3. Posted May 19, 2008 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    That’s awesome! Like you said, it’s very cool that this is getting big media attention. Hopefully people will read this article and then change what they do.

  4. Posted May 19, 2008 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    I know, I know. Not fair of me to pick on poor old brussels sprouts…and now I’m in big trouble with the Belgian Consulate. I’ll have to give your technique a try, Dan.

  5. DrFood
    Posted May 19, 2008 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    I’ve come here from the NYT article, so I’ve not read more than a few of your posts. Have you talked about chickens yet? There’s a growing movement of urban and suburban chicken-keeping, and one of the best things about chickens is that they are excellent garbage dispose-alls.

    I’ve kept chickens for ten years now and I’ve learned to trust their ability to choose what to eat and what not to eat. They get all of our food gone bad (and since I’m the frugal daughter of a half-Scottish, half-Jewish mom, that’s food gone irretrievably bad!!) and they figure out what is edible. They get everything I scrape from our plates. If the cheese has mold, I cut off the moldy bits and that goes to them as well. Their pen is a sort of giant compost pile, producing some very fine fertilizer for my gardens. We get big black trashbags of culled produce from the Willy Street Co-op (and I’m not above “rescuing” organic red bell peppers that just have a couple of soft spots when I see them in there) and scatter that around in their pen, along with lots of dry bedding, like raked up leaves (I store them in the big black trashbags I got from the store, to keep them dry). As long as you have lots of dry stuff, the pen doesn’t get smelly. Sort of a secret of chicken keeping.

    Anyway, chickens are terrific, and anyone with a yard can keep 2 or 3. You don’t need a rooster to get eggs, and these eggs are like nothing you’ve had before, if you grandma didn’t live on a farm.

  6. Ann in Boston
    Posted May 19, 2008 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    I think my own food waste has increased at least partly because groceries now prepack so much produce in big amounts we can’t use in time, or in the case of lettuce, product that seems to have a short shelf life. Maybe I only need five mushrooms, but increasingly I have to buy 12 ounces worth and hope I use them all before they go bad.

    The three of us never seem to get to all the strawberries in time.

    One thing that’s helped is to automatically freeze leftovers, to store leftovers in clear containers so we can see what we have, and to declare one dinner a week “snack fest,” in which we piece together a spread from odds and ends we’d otherwise throw away.

    Another way to reduce waste at home is to carefully inventory the veggie drawer before going to the store, and using the tag ends of things in a salad before opening the new bag of greens.

    I am always freezing the black bananas for banana bread I never make, and chicken carcasses for the stock I want to make, and we throw them away six months later…

  7. Ann in Boston
    Posted May 19, 2008 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    We are prompted at all stages of the grocery store to buy more produce the average American family can consume before it spoils. The Costco-ization of the normal grocery store.

    They this strategy at the grocery store when you don’t want two POUNDS of grapes or cherries. If the product is being sold by weight, simply separate out the amount you want into a separate bag. This works for cherries, grapes, even broccoli–anything so long as it is being sold by weight and not by the bag or bunch.

    I am also in the habit of snapping off 3-4 bananas from a bunch.

    You can also insist at the deli counter or fish counter that you really, truly want 3/4 of a pound, and the overage is not OK. Otherwise your 3/4 pound is quickly 1.15.

  8. Posted May 19, 2008 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    DrFood–that’s funny you write about chickens, I almost “chicked” out a tour of local homes (in Raleigh, NC) with coops this weekend. Chickens are a good use for food that’s already wasted, keeping in mind the EPA hierarchy places a premium on preventing food waste. Sounds like you have that well in hand.
    I have thought about chickens, myself, although I’ll have to see if it’s permitted in my city. If it is, you might just get an e-mail asking for more advice. Tell me this–if there’s no rooster does that mean there’s no crowing at the break of dawn??

  9. Jonathan
    Posted May 19, 2008 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    Ann, you’ve hit on a real pet peeve of mine–pre-packaged produce. I don’t buy produce at Trader Joe’s just because I hate not being able to control the quantities because that’s a key to avoiding waste. And it’s only worse at the bulk stores.

    You’re right, if it’s sold by weight, buy however little or much as you’d like. I do the same with bananas and take it further by buying 3-4 close to ripe and 3-4 greener ones.

  10. Robert
    Posted May 19, 2008 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    I recently moved from Chicago to a farm 200 miles away. We now have pigs and chickens that will consume any left over food. Of course I do not feed pigs pork and chickens chicken, because it just seems wrong. The pigs fatten and the chickens lay eggs on our food that would have normally been thrown out. I also work at a large cancer clinic. We get lunch catered 3 or 4 times a week by large pharmaceutical firms soliciting business. Large portions of things ranging from linguini in white sauce and baked potatoes to salads and desserts were being thrown out after the staff had eaten their fill. I now pack it all up, bring it to my pigs and get free pork for the trouble! And my pigs get dinner catered to them from some of the top gourmet places in town!

  11. Ann in Boston
    Posted May 20, 2008 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    I was also horried to learn how bad it is to send veggie scraps down the disposal, something I used to do in winter when I didn’t want to walk through snow to the inactive composter…

  12. Posted May 21, 2008 at 12:09 am | Permalink

    I’m not a defending waste, but wouldn’t some food waste in a landfill be a good thing?

  13. Jonathan
    Posted May 21, 2008 at 12:17 am | Permalink

    What, on the logic that vultures and rats have to eat, too? I’m all ears, Tanya.

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