Local Food, Local (and much less) Waste

by Amy Jo Ehman

There is an adage among Italian grandmothers – don’t waste good flavour. It means, when cooking, don’t discard anything flavourful such as the juice at the bottom of the roasting pan or the rind of Parmesan cheese that can be used to flavour another dish.

Amy Jo Ehman

Nowadays, such wisdom has flown out the kitchen window. The global food system is built on waste. Research by the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 27% of the human food supply is wasted. This waste occurs throughout the food chain: farmers who reject less than perfect fruits and vegetables, processors who throw out trimmings from pre-cut vegetables, stores that toss dated food and food with damaged packaging, restaurants that “super size” and throw out what isn’t eaten, and consumers who buy more than they need and toss it out when it goes bad.

But the waste in the food system is not all edible. Incredible amounts of fossil fuels are consumed in the process. From the tractors in the fields, to the fertilizers and pesticides, to factories and refrigerated storage, to the vehicles that transport food around the world, every step in the process consumes fossil fuels and expends greenhouse gases. Our global food system, and the relatively low price we pay for food in North America, are predicated on the availability of abundant, inexpensive fossil fuels.

Two years ago, my husband and I embarked on a food experiment that drastically cut our contribution to waste and pollution. We decided to eat locally. For one full year, just about everything we ate at home was produced in Saskatchewan. We shopped at the farmers’ market, bought directly from farmers, and made informed choices at the grocery store. We often bought in bulk, reducing the amount of packaging for the landfill, and most of our meat came wrapped in brown paper, not plastic and styrofoam.

Eating locally has other benefits besides reducing waste. It tastes better and is more nutritious because it’s usually picked ripe and not kept in storage for months on end. It’s less likely to have been treated with preservatives, fungicides, dyes and other agents that give the appearance of freshness. We get to know the people who produce our food, providing the opportunity to ask important questions about how it’s grown, how the animals live, and where the ingredients come from. And we keep our food dollars circulating in the local economy.

Over the years, I have found other ways to reduce waste in the kitchen. At the top of that list is composting. All kitchen scraps (except meat) go into the compost. There is a zip lock bag in the freezer for carrot peels, onion skins, parsley stems, broccoli stalks and anything else that can be used to make vegetable stock. When the bag is full, simmer the contents in water, strain, and voila, stock for making soup and rice (and more vegetables for the compost). For a meat stock, add the bones from a baked ham or chicken. Old bread is used for French toast and bread pudding. Italians use the rind of Parmesan cheese to enrich and flavour soup.

After a year of eating locally, my husband and I were hooked. It’s become a way of life – forging connections with our food, reducing waste, shrinking our environmental impact, and nourishing us body and soul.

For a brief bio of Amy Jo, see prairiefeast.com/about-the-author. This also has links to some of her other information, and if you Google her you can find blogs and reviews.

[Source: contributed by Amy Jo Ehman for November 2007 WasteWatch ]