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Fork in the Road: Waste not wanted

One giant step toward “net zero” happiness: Kicking out food waste
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About one third of all Whistler garbage is food waste—but does it have to be? Maybe it’s time to get creative with leftovers

Oh, right. Here are those gorgeous beets … uh, well, they were gorgeous when we first got them from Ice Cap Organics. Let’s just say they’ve been left in the fridge a bit past their best-before date. And those golden pears … kind of pulpy now. And what’s this dark stuff buried deep in a plastic bag like something from a Halloween fright night? I don’t even want to open it!

If you’ve ever taken a similar trip through your fridge, you know what I mean. But the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW), with its goal of zero waste, has a timely reminder for us all. This week is the 20th anniversary of the all-Canadian Waste Reduction Week, an initiative started by recycling councils and environmental groups back in the mid-’80s. (See? We can make a difference!)

The average person in B.C. produces 549 kilograms of garbage a year—about the weight of your average horse. Whistlerites, by comparison, produce about 325 kg per person. Pretty good, but there’s still a long way to go to, and Waste Reduction Week is a great wake-up call. Each day of the week focusses on different waste streams, and Friday is food waste—one of the best places to start.

About one-third of all the food produced on Earth is wasted! That’s food from farms, grocery stores, restaurants and your average home. And when food ends up in the landfill, it creates methane—a huge contributor to climate change that’s 25 times more potent than CO2. If we stop food waste, we stop a big chunk of all greenhouse gas emissions.

We Canucks waste a staggering $27 billion or so worth of food each year, and most of that happens at home. So to put your own food waste on a diet, here are a few very doable, very Canadian tips:

1. Check it out. The RMOW offers great resources for reducing food and other waste on its website to help move everyone to zero waste. About one third of all Whistler garbage is food waste, so check out the very resourceful, very local Love Food Hate Waste, an initiative by Metro Vancouver. Also, check out the food waste solutions that just earned Milan an Earthshot Prize.

2. Stop over-buying! No coincidence that National Waste Week happens when all that glorious fall harvest is rolling in from the fields. Most food waste at home happens from simply buying too much at once. I think we’re all getting over the hoarding impulses of COVID-19, but I bet you still tend to buy too much at once. As my mom says, two people won’t eat a fresh cauliflower, carrots and broccoli all in one week. Over-buying also applies to dry goods. A giant bag of rice has a cheaper per-unit price, but you won’t be able to use it all before it’s rancid. Go for the smaller size. And if you do buy too much fresh produce, keep reading.

3. Store it right. One of the trickiest things with any food, especially fresh produce, is storing it right. Cut that loaf of bread in half and freeze it if you aren’t going to use it all soon. And make sure you’ve got your fridge and freezer set at the optimal temperature and humidity levels for our climate. Good, airtight containers will keep your grains and cereals fresh and bug-free. For veggies, “green bags” invented by John Mazurski from Poland are a great option. Use them in place of regular plastic bags in your fridge (like, don’t stick your bananas in them on the counter). While official results are mixed, I’ve found them super for keeping things like lettuce and green peppers much fresher longer.

4. Use it, don’t lose it. Resist the urge to toss what might seem “bad.” Get creative and use what you have.

I feel terrible wasting even the tiniest bit of food. But when I was younger—oh yes, I was once!—I rarely put in the effort to salvage perfectly usable food. I reckon I thought it was all contaminated, if even a tiny bit was “icky.” Now I think of all the effort and resources the farmers, the plants and animals themselves, the soil and water and more, all put into producing our food. So in our house, even though we can get a little ahead of ourselves with groceries (ergo the real-life stories, above) we throw out very little. What does get tossed gets composted. Besides, it’s too expensive to trash!

Those not-so-fresh beets? The beetroots were fine. All it took was a bit of patience to pick through the greens and trim the ratty edges, and we ended up with a gorgeous bunch that was delicious sautéed with olive oil, sweet onion and wine.

Those golden pears a little long in the tooth? Any fruit like that that gets away on you—pulpy apples, overripe berries—makes the best fruit compote in a hurry. Cut away the worst bits, dice the rest and simmer it slowly in the smallest saucepan you can with just enough water to cover the bottom. When fruit is overripe, it cooks down fast, even on low heat. The more you cook it, the thicker it gets. Play with it: Mash the lumps down into the juices released. Add maybe a teaspoon of honey, a dab of butter, a pinch of salt. Great alone, on porridge, or over ice cream.

As for those old-ish, odd veggies kicking around, get yourself a bag of Dan-D Pak soup mix, a mixture of dried peas, lentils, barley and more. Save your pot liquor—the water left over when you boil those lovely little Sieglinde potatoes from Pemberton, or what have you. (Using pot liquor has been a tradition for centuries, especially for pregnant women and the infirm because it’s so nutritious and tasty.)

The Dan-D Pak soup mix is tasty, cheap, and easy to use. Just follow the directions on the package, and use up that pot liquor and whatever else you have—undried tomatoes, leftover cauliflower, and, yes, even something like that dark stuff, above, which was some fresh basil that went ugly but tasted fine.

Before you know it, Bob’s your uncle, and you’ve got yourself a fine pot of warm soup, perfect on an autumn day and full of all kinds of goodness you used to toss down the drain.

 

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who can still hear her prairie relatives’ reassurances over blemishes on food: “That won’t hurt you!”