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Participating in The Big Waste on Food Network was as eye opening for me as it was to watch it. I consider myself fairly well-informed in matters of buying, selling or, most simply, eating what I buy for my restaurants and home. In short, I didn’t think there would be much to learn doing this show. Or at least that there wouldn’t be much I hadn’t already seen. I was wrong. There were small amounts of precious, expensive things wasted, like chocolate, espresso and prosciutto. There were the stunning amounts of vegetables like corn, in bulk quantity, that I was surprised to learn would never “make the cut” and have a chance to even be bought.
Here are a few things we can all think about when shopping and cooking that can help reduce the amount of food waste:
1. Don’t pick through an entire pile of tomatoes to find the biggest, most perfect one. Settle for a few of the nice, small ones on top. Moving the pile around and shifting the fruit can bruise them and increase the likelihood than people will leave those other bruised fruits behind. Same goes for peaches.
2. When buying fresh ingredients, especially fruits and vegetables, try to buy less at a time and shop for them more frequently. That will lessen the chances you will throw away food that you have already paid for. I also find when I shop for less more frequently, I am more creative and wind up with a more expansive array of dishes.
3. Sometimes ugly on the outside means more beautiful on the inside. Citrus that has some traces of black on the skin? That’s just sugar coming out of the fruit, which is a good thing. Imperfect tomatoes, especially heirlooms, often have the best flavor. Imperfect shape does not rule out perfect taste.
4. Freeze fruit like bananas or pears and defrost them to make banana bread at a later date. Pear compotes, pear jams, pear pie filling? Why not? There may not be a cooking solution that matches when your food is about to go bad. So use the freezer to buy yourself some time and avoid waste.
5. Leftovers aren’t always the most exciting or welcome meals. I like to “hide” leftovers in another form. A pot pie, vegetable soup, mixed pasta dishes — hot or cold — all give opportunities to recycle food you already have in the fridge. The food made it all the way from the field to the fridge. Why not let it take that last step and make it to your table?
6. Buy local. Support your local farmers as much as you are able. The food, because it got to you more quickly than broccoli that traveled across the country, will have a much longer shelf life after you bring it home. Most importantly, it’s also just delicious eating.