Friday, July 27, 2012

My Food Waste Foibles

I've been inspired recently by The Frugal Girl's Food Waste Friday series. It got me to clean out my pantry, and after I got over the shame and the gross out of the 10 year old food that was lurking, I decided to both force myself to eat through all the pantry backlog that's still edible and to take a closer look at my food waste in general.



FoodWasteFriday

Here are before and after pictures of the "use it or lose it" pile, although the comparison doesn't completely reflect the amount of pantry stuff that I've eaten through because I keep finding more things shoved to the back of a cabinet here and there, and I've also been working my way through the backlog in the freezer. Plus, there are, um.... a LOT of dried beans & rice that didn't make it into either photo... we're talking like gallons... but I'm ignoring that for the moment - although I have eaten half of a jar of lentils so far.

Use it or Lose it pile from a few months ago

Use it or lose it pile now

I've been enjoying reading through everybody's Food Waste Friday posts, especially Jo's over at Simply Being Mum.... holy moly, her refrigerator makes me hang my head in shame! But reading through the kinds of food waste that most people report has made me realize that I have some real idiosyncrasies in this department.


Most of the food waste that people report is either fresh produce or leftovers... and strangely enough, I almost NEVER end up tossing either of those sorts of things. My foibles are canned foods, frozen stuff and dry goods. It's the stuff that I stock up on figuring I'll "always need" some xyz. But then it gets lost in a back shelf of the pantry, or in the back of the freezer or I just forget about it or lose interest.


I'm not sure what this says about me... I think there might be a fine line between preparedness and hoarding...



So. I'm on a stocking up moratorium here. I'm not buying any non-perishable stuff unless it's something that I actually need... meaning I don't have anything else I can substitute and I have a specific plan for using it within the next week or so. I'm just not going to listen to that little voice in my head that's always telling me to stock up "just in case."



Plus, I'm trying REALLY hard to make sure that I eat at least something from the use it or lose it pile every day. It may take me a while to get through it all, but I'll get there...


Over the next few weeks, I'll write some posts about how I avoid wasting leftovers and fresh produce. In the meantime I see a lot of beans and rice in my future! 

So what are your food waste foibles?

48 comments :

  1. I'm on your wavelength! I buy packaged goods that I need for a particular recipe, say, capers or green chile paste, and then they sit in the cupboard for several years. Or maybe they're used once and put in the fridge for, um, several years.

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    1. Well, at least you buy them with a particular recipe in mind... that puts you one step ahead of me. I tend to buy them just because I think I'll use them "someday." I guess this little process is making me realize that "someday" never really arrives unless you make it!

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  2. Hey Cat!
    I see your posts on Frugal Girl and Non-Consumer's.
    I think you did a great job on that pile of canned goods.

    I don't have much produce or leftover waste either. Leftovers get packed for the freezer and eaten as lunches. And produce just gets used. I don't know why I don't have waste in that area.

    I do stockpile pantry staples, but it's stuff like grains and beans, which I cook with regularly. We're a family of 5. And I think that may be in part why we don't have a lot of waste and our stockpiles never grow too large. Keeping up with everyone's appetites is a bigger issue here.

    Your cat photos are hilarious!

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    1. Hi Lili,

      Thanks for stopping by! I think the fact that I'm generally only cooking for myself is part of the problem (CatMan is only here a few days a week.) Plus, I'm realizing that my eating habits have changed dramatically over the past few years. I've made a real effort to eat more fresh, unprocessed food - hence the backlog of cream of mushroom soup and instant stuff.

      I suppose in a funny way it's a good thing... it really shows me that I have made positive change in the way I eat!

      Glad you like the funny photos. I think about 90% of the reason I blog is to have an excuse to spend hours cruising the internet looking at funny cat pictures!

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  3. Whereas I make 'I'll eat that up and not buy it again because it is bad for me' decisions, eat whatever it is up...and then a while later, buy it again!
    Plus, we have so many half jars of random stuff in the fridge...

    Lack of planning!

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    1. Planning... I totally suck at planning. I think that's why I do so much better with stuff like leftovers, because it's gone out of the "ingredient" stage and into the "food" stage, so all I have to do is eat it!

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    2. I just end up eating the same stuff through lack of planning and food cooking laziness...which makes no sense as I actually like cooking...!

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    3. I hear you. I love to cook, but I hate to cook under duress. It's fun when I can set aside time to do it, but trying to hurry through it, or feeling like I have no choice in the matter is just plain NO FUN!

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  4. You're the anti-prepper! Yay! I'm the food police in our pairing. Hey, you opened this new X! We still have old X in here!

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    1. I did that the other day 'did you buy more chilli sauce? There is still old chilli sauce here!'

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    2. I think I need some food police here! Will you come with me when I go shopping?

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  5. There's a fine line between having staples in the pantry and just having stuff that maybe someday you'll use. I think I'm getting better about being on the correct side of that line since doing Food Waste Friday.

    Also, has anyone thought about donating food to the Food Bank that's still good, but you're not interested in anymore. My son volunteers at a food bank and says that cream of mushroom soup would be very welcome.

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    1. I actually tried to donate stuff, or even give it away on FreeCycle, but all of this stuff was past its expiration date so they wouldn't take it. It was only a bit past the expiration date, so I'm not concerned about it being bad, but they have rules...

      There was actually a big story on the news a few months ago about some "expired" food that had managed to get past their check system (we're talking canned goods that were a few months past the date) and people were just incensed! "We may be poor, but that doesn't mean we'll stoop to eating expired food!" Oy Vey! I just shook my head in dismay.

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    2. I don't know about there, but locally, they can't take food past the expiration date. Even if it's canned food that probably is okay, there is a blanket rule on all food because they don't want to take the chance of making anyone sick. And I say cynically, then being sued.

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    3. I think it's the same deal here. Sigh.

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  6. Mine are the same as yours canned stuff that I thought would be interesting but we never used it. Freezer stuff--usually vegetables--that have been in the freezer too long.

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    1. I know... why is it that it looks so much more interesting in the store than it does in the pantry?

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    2. In the store, I imagine it already cooked. In the pantry, it's something I'm not in the mood to cook with just now.

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  7. Dried beans more than a year or so old are likely never going to cook to an edible consistency. Could you feed them, in their dry state, to local birds or squirrels or something?

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    1. There's a thought! Maybe the squirrels would like them. Of course, I have had success getting them to cook up if I let them simmer for an extra hour or so... I'm just loath to do so in this summer heat! I wonder if I could plant them?

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    2. Dried beans are not good for birds. I found that out when I was trying to get rid of my old dried beans. I gave them to a preschool teacher to use in her class.

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    3. Hmmm... well, I wonder about squirrels. I suppose I could put a few out there and see what happens.

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  8. I bought some squid ink spaghetti for a halloween party and didn't use it, so it's still in the cupboard. That was, um, now let's see... I've moved house twice since then...

    Then there's that big tin of ghee that my housemate bought about the same time and left behind when she moved out. Actually, I don't know when she bought it - that one might have moved house three times. There are also lots of spices from the same source - I have no idea what to do with juniper berries!

    Not only do I have ancient cans and packets lurking at the back of my cupboards, I can tell you their life stories (and let's not get onto the inherited angelica).

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    1. Ha! I have a tin of jasmine tea that a friend left here when she was visiting. That was... um... well over 6 years ago! Does tea go bad?

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    2. Pretty sure tea is fine as long as it is not damp and tthus mouldy...maybe it looses it's flavour a bit though

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    3. I think you're right. I'm not a huge fan of jasmine tea anyhow... somehow the smell always reminds me of the rhinoceros pit at the zoo!

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  9. Your pantry looks like mine right now! I have a stock pile of tinned and dried foods (just encase the world ends as we know it!)and really need to deal with it. I think I might try what your doing. I actually need the courage to get it all out and look at it first. Love the cat pic and zombies comment : ) : )

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    1. When I went through all of the shelves of cans it was pretty ugly. I don't usually like to keep stuff out on the counter but I'm doing it so ensure that this stuff actually gets used instead of forgotten again. It's also incentive... when I use it up I get my counter back!

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  10. I was great about no food waste for years and then just over this last year I've found myself having to throw away all kinds of stuff - from fresh fruits and veggies, tons of leftovers, and yes even expired pantry items. I did much better back when I planned my menus for the week, never wasted a thing back then and had much lower grocery bills too. Guess I really should get back into it!

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    1. I'm not real good at planning either. For me it just requires some discipline to make myself eat what I've got instead of making something new and exciting.

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  11. Hi Catlady
    You have identified the problem(too much canned food) so that is half the battle.
    I read recently that expiry dates are more like a guideline for the store to use..like a sell by date,than a fact that the food had now gone bad eg: packaged or canned pasta is ok for a few months past the date on the can/box.I would be more careful with perishables ,though I have used milk a few days past it's due date.
    Could you find new recipes to try that would include fresh produce and some of your canned goods.

    We number our cans as we buy them...however I can never remember if I shold be using the higher or lower number :)
    Marie

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    1. Hi Marie,

      My dad regularly eats stuff that's years past the expiration date. He shops at a store we affectionately call "the used grocery store" where they sell things with damaged packaging and that are at or near the expiration date. I'm not generally squeamish about that sort of thing, but once it's 4-5 years past the expiration date well....

      Numbering cans is a great idea... I actually have some shallow shelves in the basement that I built when I was selling books online - they are sized for pocket paperbacks. I keep thinking that it would make a great pantry because they're shallow and nothing could get lost in the back, and if I was disciplined about putting things in on one side and taking them out on the other it would naturally rotate. The only problem is that one of my cats likes to climb on things and I worry about him knocking down a can and getting hurt, so I'd need to fashion some sliding doors or something. Guess I'll add it to the infinite list of projects!

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    2. How about using dowels as rails?

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    3. They stretch between the sides of the bookcase, at the front of the shelf, about an inch or two above the shelf, and they help keep the cans on. Spice racks often have these. Sort of like how stair rails and balcony rails keep people from falling off?

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    4. Oh, I get it! That's an interesting idea... just keep the cans from falling rather than making doors. Hmmmmm... now you've got me thinkin'! Thanks for the suggestion!

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  12. If it helps at all, I learned that our local food bank disperses food as long as it is within 2 years from the expiration date, so maybe some hope for you?

    Our issue is letting veggies go bad. Thankfully, they can just be tossed in the compost. Otherwise, I'm tired of all of the plastic we end up trashing...all the seals, wrapping, etc. We try to be good about it, but some things just have to be bought :(

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    1. 2 years past expiration is about my limit too - unfortunately the food banks won't take them if they're at all past the date.

      I hear you on the plastic thing. I try really hard to avoid it, but there are some things you just can't buy without it... grapes, cherries etc. I avoided that stuff for years because of the plastic issue, but finally decided that it wasn't worth it. At least there's a local company here that makes composite decking from plastic bags so most of it can be recycled through them.

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    2. I recently bought these little produce bags, they're made of a fine mesh.$2.00 for 4 so I got about 12 and I now use those for the bulk produce... and recently I actually ran out of plastic bags(we do use some for garbage etc)
      Marie

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  13. Oh boy. I'm slightly afraid of what's in my cupboard. I know I have at least a few cans that are way old and need to be tossed (do I clean out the food and then recycle, or just toss? I think that's been my primary hang up), and I also have some other things that are old and I shouldn't buy again. (Couscous, for example. Not a fan of the texture, never make it, why bother?) Another problem is that my mom likes to give me food, and it's not always stuff I'm interested in eating, but I hate throwing it away or not giving it a fair chance because it came from my mom. I guess that's an emotional hang up that I should get over so that the food goes to someone who will eat it.

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    1. Oh... the parental gift syndrome, I know it well! My parents have been on a de-cluttering kick lately and I've really had to learn how to say no - but they do the same thing with food. I'm getting better at politely explaining that I wouldn't use it and it would just go to waste, but it's still a challenge - sometimes I can sense that the situation is "loaded" and it's just not worth the hassle.

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  14. My most recent problem was fresh produce. My boys were huge eaters of produce, once they moved out I had a horrible time figuring out how much to buy for just me. I like a variety during the week, and some items you just can't buy one or two, you have to buy the whole package, like grapes or cherries, then I struggle to eat it in time or catch it in time to get it in the freezer. My fix was to buy a dorm-sized fridge that will only hold a few things and shop more often. but since I am busy eating the produce my dried beans are sitting in the pantry, not sure how long some of them have been there, definitely over a year.

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    1. Hmmm... I'm trying to imagine letting a grape or cherry go bad. My problem is that it takes great restraint for me not to eat the entire bag as soon as I get home from the store since I consider them to be the most delectable treats on the planet!

      Smaller, more frequent shopping trips definitely help in the produce department though!

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  15. Well I'm looking forward to your posts on this topic! You can call them "panic room stockpile expiration sensation: the eatening" or something.

    If I had any space at all spare, and wasn't a perpetual house-mover I know I would find lots of non-perishables out of date, it has happened in the past but not quite to the degree of yours haha. Hoarding/stockpiling - who's to say what the difference is?

    I am TURRIBLE with fresh vege waste. Just turrible. Actually herbs are worst, rarely a herb comes into this house that doesn't get mostly wasted. I tried making pesto out of my most-wasted herb, coriander/cilantro and it was only ok. I would end up with too much pesto if I kept making it!

    *first world problems*

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    1. I think you might well have a career in writing titles! I must say that having been in this house for 17 years now I have definitely fallen victim to the stockpiling syndrome. The garage is the worst! At this point I sorta feel like I can never move again... it would take years just to pack everything up and/or get rid of all of the debris!

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    2. you may know this but most fresh herbs can be frozen.. maybe that will help.

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  16. Salad! I always buy it, then almost never eat it. Speaking of which, just bought some yesterday. OK, promising myself I will have a nice salad tonight!

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    1. OK... I'm gonna go work on that post now!

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