The Second Life of Food

This morning, I was doing a bit of advance planning for our dinner this evening. It’s Friday, which is traditionally homemade pizza night at our house, but tonight we were intending to use some left-over beef stew and transform it into a beef pot pie using a pie crust and some corn starch for thickening.

As I dug around in the cupboards and refrigerator to make sure we had everything on hand, I came across a few scary outdated items in the back of the refrigerator. They looked scary. They smelled scary. And, sadly, they headed right to the trash can.

One of the most disappointing things at our house is food that’s gone bad. It finds its way to the back of the refrigerator or cupboard and, eventually, gets too old to use. I look at such things with disappointment, as it’s good food simply going to waste.

Throwing away food – just like throwing away anything else – is a waste of resources. Our money and/our our time was invested in acquiring and preparing that food and simply throwing it away means that your time, money, and energy went to nothing. That’s a conclusion that doesn’t make anyone happy.

Of course, much like anything else, food can sometimes be recycled to a spectacular second use. Before you decide to toss out the food, give it a serious second look and ask yourself if the trash can is the best ultimate destination for it.

Quite often, the food really is bad and needs to be discarded. If something is moldy, I don’t mess with it (well, excepting certain kinds of cheeses, of course – blue cheese is all about the mold). If something has a smell that indicates that it’s gone wrong, I’ll just toss it. If it’s opened and past the date, I’ll almost always toss it immediately.

Sometimes, though, food that I’ll pass on in its current form has value if it’s used in another context. Here are some examples.

Stale bread If you have stale bread that’s gone dry and hard, get out the grater and grate it into bread crumbs, then save those crumbs in a jar. After all, this is exactly what bread crumbs are. Bread crumbs make a fantastic breading for fish, chicken, and vegetables, helping to seal in the moisture and flavor while making a crunchy outer shell.

Old fruits As long as they’re not genuinely rotting, most over-ripe fruits can easily be turned into an excellent bread. One great example of this is banana bread, which just requires a loaf pan, a spoon, some over-ripe bananas, a bit of butter, sugar, an egg, vanilla, baking soda, and flour. Just mix them in a bowl with a spoon until it’s consistent and put it in a loaf pan. You can make something very similar with many overripe fruits – I’ve made strawberry bread, pineapple bread, and zucchini bread and all were good (we just tend to eat a lot of bananas, so banana bread is a regular thing).

Old vegetables I save these in a small box in the freezer. When I have a full box, I’ll use the vegetables to make a vegetable soup. I’ll just put all the vegetables into the crock pot, add water until it’s got about half an inch of liquid over the top of the vegetables, and then season the whole thing like crazy. It makes for a pretty good – and pretty healthy – meal.

Another old vegetable and fruit tactic Add them to a compost bin. If you don’t have one, ask around, particularly among your gardening-oriented friends. It’s far better to return the leftover materials to the earth than to put them in the trash and watch them head to a landfill. You can use coffee grounds and eggshells in a similar fashion.

Here’s the real message: don’t look at old food as something to immediately be thrown out. Sometimes, it’s a resource that can be used in future meals. It’s far less wasteful to approach things in this fashion, which means that you’re not only conserving your own resources, time, and money, but you’re also sparing the earth.

Loading Disqus Comments ...