Waste — Is it Inevitable?

by Katy on February 25, 2010 · 7 comments

The following is a reprint of a previously published post. Enjoy!


We all do it. Food, fuel, money, time, and personal energy.

It’s close to impossible to live a completely waste-free life. I know, because I’m trying. Really hard.

I issued a “Waste No Food Challenge” for Non-Consumer Advocate readers in May because I was mortified with the amount of food I was buying, storing and then tossing. My home’s vegetable crisper had become nothing more than an air conditioned Slime-O-Tron 2000. (Patent pending at this time.)

The money spent, the resources wasted. Argh!!!

Even with my efforts at full-steam, I’m still wasting some food. Garlic that’s sprouted, food other people have brought to the house, cereal pushed to the back of the cupboard with little wiggling residents.

I compost, and madly tuck leftovers into new meals and freeze all I can. And yes, I’m even eating the frozen food. (I try hard to not delay waste by freezing food I have no intention of ever getting back to.)

So is it worth all my valiant efforts? If I’m trying my very best to not waste food, yet still doing it, should I give up?

Absolutely not!

I have gone from from thrice weekly grocery store trips to maybe once a week. Each trip that doesn’t happen translates to money saved, as the impulse food purchases are cut from the cycle.

We are wasting maybe 10% of what we were before the challenge, and eating healthier to boot.

I used to feel like I needed to buy more groceries when the fridge looked empty, but I realize that the cluttered fridge of the past was mostly leftovers that went to waste. I can now see what I have, so it’s easy to keep on top of eating up our food.

I have learned a lot about how to avoid food waste:

  • Put out smaller servings, especially for kids. It’s okay to have seconds.
  • It’s better to buy the specific amount of ingredients required for a meal. Even if that means paying a higher price per pound. There’s no savings if food gets thrown out.
  • Choose smaller fruit. The huge apples and pears are more than we need.
  • Post-ripe fruit can be frozen for yummy smoothies.
  • Clear leftover containers help me to remember what I have available. This has been key, as I apparently am a see-it-to-believe-it kind of gal.

The Waste-No-Food challenge was officially a 30 day project, but I have no intentions to revert back to my wasteful ways.

Come join the challenge. You’ll save money, time shopping and most likely eat better. C’mon, it’ll be fun!

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Kris-ND February 25, 2010 at 11:08 am

I want to tell you thank you for inspiring me to think about the food I waste, and how to learn to do things another way. Just wanted to tell you that 🙂

It is still a very long journey for me, but you have encouraged me to keep on chugging along.


Katy February 25, 2010 at 11:11 am

Thanks for the nice words, I’m still a work in progress myself.

Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


Karen February 25, 2010 at 3:28 pm

We have much less waste now than a few months ago, and it feels better. I can now look in the fridge and see the actual shelves. There is space around stuff whereas before, it was packed solid with aging casseroles and sagging veggies. I no longer forget what’s here to cook with. We rarely go out to eat anymore, and now make much more of an effort to use everything up, so thanks for the inspiration!

Compared to how we operated last year, this has been a real revolution. Our neighbor gave us a huge bag of avocados as he does every year, and this year we used every one up. I am still attempting to use up every orange on our tree–we’re talking very tart blood oranges. I’ve made lots of curd and used many of the oranges in various sauces, and still the oranges keep coming…


Tracy Balazy February 25, 2010 at 5:38 pm

You mentioned “garlic that’s sprouted.” I had garlic that did that recently, and I chopped up the whole thing and used the green sprouts in whatever I was cooking, and they were good, too! I don’t know if the sprouts eventually become the delicious garlic scapes that we received with one delivery from the local organic community farm we subscribed to last year, but they were tasty!


Marie-Josée February 26, 2010 at 12:23 pm

I’ve written this as a response to other of your posts, so if I sound like I am repeating myself, I am! In order to avoid food waste, I have really simplified our menu. During the week we get our raw greens in the form of green smoothies, and over-ripe fruit get processed in those too. Our cooked veggies get consumed in the form soup. This has saved many wilted greens from the compost and everyone loves the green smoothies at our house. Another strategy I have adopted is to season and marinate the meat we purchase weekly and freeze it the day I do the shopping. After diner each day, I take out of the freezer the meat/fish/poultry we will be eating the following dinner. We have also come into the habit of cooking the said meat/fish/poultry on the planned day even if we do break down and head out to the restaurant. I am so ashamed of all the meat that has gone bad in our fridge because our busy/restaurant loving family didn’t bother to cook it. My husband is a great left-over muncher, and often works his way through those during the weekend. I have been wasting a lot of small pita’s that I buy for my son, which he eats with hummus for lunch. He’s been informed that I will buy rice cakes in the future, as they don’t go bad quickly. I’m allergic to gluten, so I can’t help polish those off. Thank’s for the inspiration Katy. Reading about your experiences and other people’s responses is so enriching and enlightening.


dee dee February 26, 2010 at 6:49 pm

I found your blog on Jonathan Bloom’s Wasted Food. I hate waste too – makes me crazy. When we’ve made something that might last longer than our interest in it, we freeze it in dinner-sized portions. Since it’s just the 2 of us, this winds up being a quart-size containers typically. I agree 100% with you about the over-sized fruit. U-pick orchards tend to have smaller apples, pears, peaches, etc. making for much less waste. I’m looking forward to visiting you again. Hope you’ll stop by my blog if you have time.


Deanna February 27, 2010 at 11:07 am

I also found you from Jonathan Bloom. It is a giant challenge to reduce home food waste to the greatest degree possible. We’ve done a lot better this year. We started composting and now I clean out at least the produce crispers in the fridge every week before I shop, so I see how well things are lasting, don’t buy what I already have that’s good, and incorporate what’s still good into the menu plan for the next week.

Maybe the best thing I’ve done so far is to hang a small whiteboard (magnetic) on the fridge door and a slightly larger one (not magnetic but I’m putting it on a magnetic hanger) for the upright freezer. (I got both boards for cheap at wally world.)

Once I cleaned out and inventoried both fridge/freezer and extra freezer (a big job but I was highly motivated to stop waste), I’ve found it surprisingly easy to keep up the inventory. I just wipe off or jot on with a dry erase marker any time I add or use up something.

I don’t put things on the white board like milk, juice, condiments, eggs in the fridge, or coffee or ice cream in the freezer, because we already have a handle on those, very rarely wast them, and I don’t need to track anything that already works. Instead, I track produce, leftovers, and any special ingredients I want to use before they go bad (sour cream, tortillas, etc.).

I also make sure to track the various types of bread in the freezer (I track about 90% of everything in the freezer), because that gets freezer burned easier than other things. Like the other commenter, I have a gluten free diet so can’t help eat that stuff up. So, I rely on the freezer to manage the parts of packages that can’t be eaten up quickly enough by the gluten-eater.

Faced with this information every time I’m in the kitchen, I’m far more likely to grab produce or leftovers from the fridge for a snack or add something extra to an item on that night’s dinner (like sour cream or tortillas on the side).

I don’t like things hanging on my fridge door, and I resisted doing this after I got the idea, but I’ve been so glad I did. The virtuous feeling of wasting less money and fewer resources, as well as the easy knowledge and feeling of control over what’s in there without digging around or re-buying, has outweighed my sense of aesthetics.

This has made making a grocery list so easy, because I see right away that we have lots of chicken in the freezer but not much fish, and we have lemons in the fridge but not limes, and so forth. That way I don’t load up on more chicken or lemons on sale and end up with too much of one thing and not enough of another, wasted space and getting tired of eating chicken.

I also post the weekly menu plan on the whiteboard. It changes as schedules and situations change, but the plan itself has given me more control over my time and food resources. Changing the plan a bit is so much easier than coming up with one on the fly day after day. I love my whiteboards.


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