It pains me to admit this, but today I threw out a relatively large amount of food. I originally set out to start cleaning, rearranging, and decluttering the kitchen. I soon realised that in addition to a nice assortment of veggies decomposing in the fridge, I also had a selection of nuts and whole grain rice that were well past their expiration dates, in some cases by years. Being uninterested in the stomach issues that typically arise from eating mouldy or rancid food, I disposed of the lot. Some went to my worms and some to the garbage. As I got rid of it, I realised that I need to make some changes. I’m good at the accumulating, but not so good at the management. I tend to bring home a good range of tasty and nutritious food, but I don’t always get the best use of it.
We have a few things working against us. We have limited space, so things get stuffed onto shelves and wedged into corners in various locations. It becomes really easy to forget what’s stored where and how much of something we have on hand. I also have a tendency to get excited about food and buy a lot of new things to try which has resulted in the acquisition of such things as 15 kinds of beans, eight kinds of rice, and dozens of different nuts, seeds, mushrooms, sauces, and seaweeds. At the same time, we typically cook a lot of different kinds of food which usually leaves us with a lot of different kinds of ingredients and leftover bits and pieces from trying out new recipes or tweaking old ones.
I loathe tossing food, a problem that Wasted Food has a lot of good information on. Throwing away stuff that once was perfectly good was hard to do. Shameful is a good word to describe the feeling. But as awful as actually throwing it was, I’m grateful that it forced me to think through how we store and use food around and to reconsider our current system (okay, okay…our lack thereof). And so, when I needed a break this afternoon I sat down and drafted a loose five-part plan.
Part one is to use up what we already have. I’d like to not waste any more food if I can avoid it, so I’m going to figure out some recipes to make with the odds and ends and bits and pieces. Tonight, that meant a dinner of spiced split mung beans and spinach. The mung beans were the last of the bag and the spinach needed to be eaten before the holidays.
Part two is to figure out what we eat regularly. The things we stock up on and keep on hand should be the things that we use a lot. We seem to be doing well with things like rice, cornmeal, oatmeal, flour, lentils, pasta, tomatoes, broth, and sugar, but we still have a bunch of other things that don’t get used all that often. Focusing on the things that we use a lot of makes the most sense, particularly given out limited storage space.
Part three is to try some new meals. I need recipes for about ten of those different kinds of beans that I have kicking around, plus a whole bunch of other things (seaweed, I’m looking at you since I’m pretty regularly at a loss on this one). While I’d like to stick with what we eat regularly, I’d also like to expand our repertoire of recipes that are really healthy and made from ingredients that I know store well.
Part four is to plan for new purchases. Buying a bunch of food because it’s new and interesting isn’t all that useful if its just going to sit in the closet. This doesn’t mean we won’t try new things or put them into the regular rotation. It just means that I have to know exactly what we’ll be using something for before I put it in my grocery cart.
Part five is somewhat longer-term and involves setting up a database of foods that we have on hand. It’s hard to know how much of everything we have stored, so a system where we can note what’s coming in, what’s going out, and what’s located where would be helpful. I’m also hoping this will help me rotate food more effectively so we don’t keep opening new bags of beans or rice when there are older ones sitting in the closet – sadly, it seems that good rice doesn’t age quite the same way that good wine does.
This is pretty preliminary and I’ll probably need to tweak it as I go. However, I’m hopeful that we can establish a system to reduce food waste. Given the many different social justice issues throughout the world, I find it unconscionable to waste food. It’s well past time that I find ways to better manage our food resources.