Waste No Food Challenge — An Update

by Katy on February 1, 2010 · 31 comments

My monthly garbage pickup was today, which meant that yesterday was clean out the fridge day. Yes, I compost and work to minimize my family’s food waste, but there’s always something that slips through the cracks. This month was two tubs half-eaten cottage cheese, some Trader Joe’s hummus, (how did that happen? I love their hummus!) and some food my sister brought down from Seattle and then abandoned in my refrigerator.

But the refrigerator was not the only food storage to receive the food waste warden treatment, as I had a new pretty vintage glass storage jar that was aching to be filled with oatmeal.(Yes, I anthropomorphize storage containers. You got a problem with that?) And in that way where the flutter of a butterfly’s wings enacts change across the world, I completely cleaned and organized my kitchen cupboards today.

I pulled everything from my cupboards, (wiping down that greasy dust down that can only be found in kitchens) and transformed what had degenerated into a hodge-podge of food stuff into a thing of beauty.

Most notable were five containers of empty/almost empty Hershey’s unsweetened cocoa and four ziploc bags half-filled with stale/rancid taco shells. The Hershey’s chocolate I can understand, as I use the recipes for chocolate cake and frosting that’s printed on the box, but the taco shells? Sigh . . . . We can never eat all the tacos shells in the box, so I duly put them into a Ziploc bag like the responsible non-consumer that I am. Then when we’re having tacos two months later, the saved shells are stale and unappealing so I open up a new box and continue the cycle. But I apparently never cull the old ones out.

Luckily, the Hershey’s containers were recyclable and the taco shells were crushed and added to the compost, so no real garbage was created in today’s organizing spree.

The only super gross discovery was a paper bags full of dog biscuits that I had bought for the pup who volunteers for the read to the dogs program at the library. These bone shaped atrocities were swarming with bugs and had the consistency of swiss cheese. Gag, gag, gag.

I also gleaned and organized my medication and tea cupboards. I found Beano that expired in 1998 as well as some very old dinosaur vitamins that I had bought for my then preschoolers that had been deemed “yucky.” Since they had expired in 2003, I poured them into a baggie to take to the pharmacy for responsible disposal.

My kitchen cupboards are now so beautiful that I kept the doors open for most of the day, and actually considered having my tea while seated in front of them. (I don’t have cable TV, so my entertainment needs are simple.)

I now feel like I have a clean slate in the food waste department, and that warden lady can chill out for another month or so.

How are you doing with your food waste? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Alea February 1, 2010 at 11:38 pm

I love glass jars filled with grains and beans. I find them charmingly old-fashioned. I would probably have had tea and perhaps a scone while viewing them, but I don’t have cable either.

I also save empty boxes and containers because there is a recipe that I might want to use…I should add that to my resolutions; only 24 hours to write down the recipe, then the box goes into recycling. I think that might be harder to keep than adhering to The Compact!

I always plan a taco salad a couple of days after tacos just to use up the leftovers taco shells, because if I don’t, I will end up tossing stale taco shells.


Cara February 1, 2010 at 11:41 pm

This post actually made me jealous! I love cleaning and reorganizing my kitchen cupboards! Sick, I know 🙂
I even posted a photo of one of my cupboards on my blog once (http://kidsplayingwithskulls.blogspot.com/2009/12/this-week-in-my-kitchen-falafels-with.html#cupboards), when I was feeling particularly proud of the result. Thanks for sharing!


Jinger February 2, 2010 at 5:43 am

I recycle my lost taco shells, cracker crumbs and the like in the bird feeder!


Jenn H February 2, 2010 at 6:07 am

What do you mean “take to the pharmacy for responsible disposal”? What pharmacy? What do they do w/ it? I have a ton of meds I need to get out of my cabinet but don’t want to throw away. I don’t know why I can’t just finish the antibiotics like the Dr.s say to!


Colleen February 2, 2010 at 6:12 am

You can freeze the taco shells for up to a couple months — it will keep them from going rancid.


Shannon February 2, 2010 at 6:31 am

We did well this month…I only ended up throwing out a half a baked sweet potato, a portion of green beens that got lost in the back of the fridge, and a smallish wedge of cabbage that we kept whittling away at.
I do the taco salad thing with the taco shells too.


Jacqueline February 2, 2010 at 6:36 am

If the shells are just stale (not rancid!) you can put them on a cookie sheet and heat them on a low setting in the oven. It’ll dry them out and make them tasty again.


WilliamB February 2, 2010 at 7:06 am

“I completely cleaned and organized my kitchen cupboards today.”
Doesn’t it feel wonderful! I positively gloat after days like that.

Broken taco shells make lovely chips. Or crush to crumbs, freeze for long-term storage, and use to dredge chix or pork (or fish I suppose) to saute, then top with salsa or mole.

Jenn H: why don’t you finish antibiotics? Do they make you feel ill? Do you stop when you feel better? Is your prescription longer than 10 days? Not finishing is a serious medical issue so it’s a good idea to figure out what’s going on.


Jenn H February 2, 2010 at 4:29 pm

WilliamB-Thanks for the concern. I hate taking antibiotics because I think they are over prescribed. Sometimes they are needed & I get them, but tend to stop taking them a few days after I feel better which is before the prescription runs out. I tried to convince the pharmacist to give me less last time because I knew there was no way I was going to finish a 14 day cycle of antibiotics for a tooth problem. Imagine how well that went over at the Target pharmacy!
I keep re-writing this because it sounds kinda crazy when read it back. It’s not like I think I know more than the Dr.’s I just to tend to follow my gut on medical stuff. See even that sounds kind of crazy.


WilliamB February 3, 2010 at 3:11 am

Antibiotics *are* overprescribed. This happens when they are prescribed for something that is not caused by bacteria – for example, anything that’s caused by a virus.

Other times they’re prescribed for the right reasons (for example, pneumonia) but the patient doesn’t want to take them. That’s the patient’s right.

But if one uses antibiotics, one needs to take them *until all the bacteria are dead*. If one doesn’t, then … well, remember the dictum “That which doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger?” It’s true for bacteria as well. By taking antibiotics for a little while but not the whole course, you’re training the little critters to survive our attempts to kill them. This affects not only you – who now harbors antibiotic-resistant bacteria = but everyone else around you, who then catch a disease that can no longer be treated.

So please if you’re not going to finish the medicine, don’t start. People die as a result of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Including my almost-uncle.


Jodi February 2, 2010 at 7:15 am

Makes me smile. Lovely to think of you looking at those beautiful cupboards; kindred spirit.

My chickens would eat the taco shells–and the dog biscuits with extra protein.


Cate February 2, 2010 at 7:42 am

You’re hilarious with your cupboard-gazing. I do the same thing! Buying less food the past several weeks has really cut down on our food waste, but I’m afraid there’s a chance we might waste some cilantro this week…as well as the half-empty bag of baking raisins I found in the pantry yesterday. Apparently I missed the “refrigerate after opening” note on the bag, but I mean…they’re raisins. I have no idea if they’re icky or not!


WilliamB February 2, 2010 at 3:48 pm

They’re raisins.


Kristen@TheFrugalGirl February 3, 2010 at 3:40 am

I never refrigerate raisins! That has actually never occurred to me. Hmm. I’d say they’re safe.


Kris-ND February 2, 2010 at 8:19 am

This is one of the areas I struggle with the most, and it is particularly distressing to me, since I lived for 2 years in a country with incredible poverty. I KNOW what hunger looks like, and I can’t seem to get my own food waste under control 🙁

Do I waste as much food as many who don’t think about it? No, but I do waste MUCH more food than I should.

I get stuck when I have an amount of something that isn’t enough to put away for left overs the next day, but enough to think I should be doing *something* with it. In the end, I usually put it in the fridge, still have no clue, and then end up throwing it out anyway when it spoils.


Robyn J. February 2, 2010 at 8:21 am

You inspire me Katy! This is usually one of my monthly tasks as I feel SO much better and more motivated to cook meals from scratch in a clean, organized kitchen. That said, I’ve been substituting teaching for my son’s teacher who just had a baby. This means Mama hasn’t been home to do all the jobs that usually get done; top of the list………the fridge. YIKES. Scarry in there I tell ya. I think I’ll have a lot for my compost pile as well by the time I get brave enough to tackle it. Pretty sure it would be in my best interest to load everything up and bring it to 2nd grade science class for a guessing contest of what it once was! Don’t you think it would be an excellent example of decomposition? I applaud your efforts and celebrate your victory of a clean kitchen…….may it stay that way (mine doesn’t seem to!)


Lisa February 2, 2010 at 11:43 am

Great minds think alike! I cleaned and reorganized my pantry shelves the other day. Then today, I cleaned out the fridge. Maybe tomorrow I’ll tackle the cabinets.


sandy February 2, 2010 at 12:14 pm

I hate wasting food too and often end up with stuff that’s just too old. I have dried beans that are no longer cookable, but beans contain nitrogen so if I crush them up, I can use them to fertilize plants. (I would have crushed up the old vitamins and added them to my houseplants–they need their minerals too!) I garden a lot and end up with tiny amounts of vegetables at the end of the season. There’s usually not enough to make a meal so I empty the refrigerator about once a week by putting the miscellaneous veggies together into a soup. Check out a chicken tortilla soup recipe on-line to use up those extra taco shells–very tasty.


Kris-ND February 2, 2010 at 8:05 pm

I used to give old beans to my son when he was small for his toy combine lol Until he found out that our neighbors combined lentils, NOT old kidney beans…lol


Mrs. Money February 2, 2010 at 1:31 pm

I hate wasting food! I need to make a conscious effort to start eating out of my freezer and pantry. 🙂


AlwaysLearning February 2, 2010 at 3:41 pm

I keep a container in my freezer that I always pour the last bits of veggies, rice, etc… that I have left over and make soup out of it when I have enough.


laura February 2, 2010 at 4:06 pm

I also use the leftover shells for taco salad or crush them into tomato soup or scrambled eggs with salsa and cheese. Re: medication disposal. They (you know…”THEY”) used to think flushing them was the responsible thing to do and some medical facilities still do that. Environmentally interested folks have raised concerns about the meds going into the water system so flushing was then frowned upon. Some suggest mixing them in with undesireable garbage items like kitty litter, but then they just end up in the landfills, right? I don’t know what responsible medication disposal is anymore!


James February 2, 2010 at 4:22 pm

I pop stale chips or taco shells in the oven on 200 degrees for about 10 – 15 minutes and they crisp right back up!


Sandy February 2, 2010 at 5:20 pm

We are lucky enough to have farm cats so a lot of the food that starts to go bad, goes to the farm cats – they love it compared to the regular cat food they get on days with out people food!

I’m trying to be more aware of what food I have and make sure it gets eaten before going bad – like the macaroni and cheese my daughter made the other night and there is still about a 3/4 serving left in the fridge – so I try to make creative combinations to take for lunch – like the mac and cheese with a side salad.


Meredith February 2, 2010 at 5:21 pm

Thanks for a great, and inspiring, post. We’ve terrible with our food wastage lately, and it’s something I’m hoping to get a handle on. And our cupboards are way overdue for a clean-out. Mostly if we can eat our leftovers and buy less packaging this month, I”ll be happy.


Marie-Josée February 3, 2010 at 8:00 am

We’re doing better with food waste, but we still waste some. We have simplified our menu and this has helped us reduce it a lot. We make a huge pot of veggie and bean soup that lasts the whole week, which I now freeze on Friday, because we usually don’t eat it over the weekend. I used to waste so many greens in the form of wilted brocoli or bok-chow etc.. so the soup covers the cooked green veggie part of our diet. I process fruit that is a little too ripe in green smoothies so this has diminished our pear/kiwi/banana waste. One area of waste I don’t have control over is mixed baby greens that get slimy a few days after being purchased. It really frustrates me and they are expensive. I think they get damaged during transportation to our nordic land, here in Québec.


Tracy Balazy February 3, 2010 at 1:11 pm

Katy, your comment about old Beano made me laugh out loud! I think I have some of that languishing in my medicine cabinet, too!!!! As for food waste, my husband and I are the only ones who live here, and we do a good job of eating leftovers, yet dibs and dabs of things get left in the fridge from time to time. Like the tablespoon of plain yogurt I found in there today, smelling past its prime. We use plain Greek yogurt instead of milk in things like mac and cheese, and it adds a great taste. But dairy at our house has a habit of lingering when we’re not using it in cooking. I can relate to your comment about the old cottage cheese. We just found one of those in the fridge.

Breads and crackers and corn chips and such, I’ll put out for the birds. Most other stuff, we compost.

My worst waste right now is the never-opened bottle of maple chipotle grill sauce a friend gave me four or five years ago because she wasn’t using it. It expired in 2006. Sauces tend to last, but that’s pretty old. It’s one of those specialty sauces with no preservatives, too.

And then there’s the soy milk in my fridge. Never opened. I bought it when I was on a cereal-eating kick, and then I started eating Kashi mixed with honey and plain yogurt instead. The vanilla soy milk expired in August, and the chocolate in December 2008. Sheesh. It’s the type that doesn’t need to be refrigerated until it’s been opened. Dare I?


Kristin February 3, 2010 at 7:45 pm

We’re doing well with avoiding food waste this week but the cilantro may get me yet! Why oh why oh why is it sold in such vast bunches?


Katy February 3, 2010 at 11:57 pm

Having the kitchen organized made big grocery shopping so much easier today. Putting everything away was over in a jiffy!

Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


Ada February 4, 2010 at 2:19 pm

Thanks, Katy! I needed some inspiration. I have been meaning to clean out my cupboard for a few weeks now, and will do it when I get home today while my husband cooks dinner.


Julia February 16, 2010 at 9:10 am

We moved in the beginning of January, which was a wonderful opportunity to get rid of some weird stuff hanging around in the pantry (like dog treats my husband got as a sample—we don’t have a dog!!) and also the chance to rearrange everything in our new cupboards. I actually like moving because it gives me a fresh start and I like analyzing where I’m going to put everything in our new kitchen. (I’m a freak, I know.) But what really made me laugh in your post is that you have a “tea cupboard”. I do, too, I have tons of teas and they make me so happy. I was so pleased with the way I was able to organize all my teas right above this weird little section of counter (between the fridge and the sliding door) which at first glance appeared small and useless but turned out to be the perfect place to put the “Hot Shot” (thing that heats my tea water) and my husband’s coffee maker. So everything is right there, I can leave the appliances and sugar bowl out all the time and no one can see it and think my counter is messy. (Our old house was for sale the majority of 2008 and half of 2009, so I got used to living with almost no appliances etc. on the counter. It looks ugly to me now to see stuff out, perhaps I need some therapy here. 😉 Anyway, I am slowly working my way through a month’s worth of my favorite blog posts I didn’t have time to read after we moved…


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