growing, cooking, eating, and thinking…
Americans spend on average less than 7% of their income on food, and this is not good news.
Cheap food -or, to put it better, food made cheaply- is not good for us: we overbuy (it’s cheap, right?), we overeat, we waste. In the long run, it turns out that cheap food is not cheap at all because the side effects of wasting and overeating affect our health and our environment. Overeating is responsible for increasing rates of metabolic syndrome (a combination of diabetes and hypertension) that is an important factor in the reduction of life expectancy in the US and of increased medical spending.
Research shows that 30% to 40% of all the food produced in the US is wasted either on the field (for example, it is not uncommon for farmers to leave crops to rot if the market price is too low) or tossed without being used by individuals or institutions (stores, schools, hospitals, prisons, etc). Most of this waste ends up in landfills and decomposes, creating pollution.
In the long term, the real solution is a change towards more sustainable, locally rooted food systems that reduce overproduction. Meanwhile, are several fixes can be implemented by individuals and institutions that have meaningful, immediate impact.
At the household level, there is an interesting contradiction: we are told to eat more vegetables and less fat and carb-rich foods. Unfortunately, vegetables spoil fast, and they take time to prepare. Eating healthy is difficult, and it becomes even harder when long working hours are combined with lack of transportation, lack of access to fresh and culturally appropriate produce, and comparatively high prices. Produce bought in earnest ends up rotting in the back of the fridge.
Luckily, there are many resources available to help manage our pantries better.
MSU extension provides plenty of resources. The “love food hate waste” website offers daily tips on how to improve our food saving skills. The USDA has set up a food waste challengefood waste challenge for kids and parents to find new inventive ways to reduce waste. Even more important steps are being taken at the institutional level all over the country, and Michigan universities are leading the way. The University of Michigan has a zero-waste program that targets the school cafeterias and big sports events. Michigan State has changed the way food is cooked in the cafeterias to reduce losses at the source and has an anaerobic digester that produces about 380 kilowatts/hour from cafeterias’ food scraps. At Michigan Tech, the kitchen started using LeanPath, an electronic food waste tracking system, that reduced their waste by 50%.
Following our school’s example is possible and it can be boiled down to a slightly different take on the three Rs: reduce, reuse, re-heat.
First, buy responsibly.
Second, do not be afraid of leftovers.
Third, find recipes to re-present them. Here is a very reusable example.
Not your mother’s bread pudding
This recipe helps you to use leftovers that have been sitting in the fridge for a couple of days, is fairly cheap, and is a very popular potluck offer. Serves 6
Half a package sliced bread.
About 2 cups of “Back of the drawer” wilted greens, and or assorted vegetables leftovers 1 onion, thinly sliced (can also use frozen chopped onion)
3 spoons oil
1 garlic clove, sliced, or 1 teaspoon garlic powder
4 eggs, beaten
3 cups milk 1 and ½ cup grated cheese (of any kind), separated
1 cup chopped ham (optional)
½ cup chopped scallions (optional)
½ cup chopped parsley (optional)
Toast the bread in the oven until golden, then break in small pieces, transfer in a mixing bowl and cover with milk.
Set oven to 350F.
Chop all vegetables into small pieces: you need two cups in total.
Heat the oil in a skillet and sauté the onion until translucent.
Working with a whip or a wooden spoon (or even a fork) mash the bread in smaller pieces, add the chopped vegetables, the garlic, the onion and 1 cup of grated cheese.
Add the ham, the scallions, and the parsley if you are using them.
Beat in the eggs, grease a 9” x 13” pan and transfer the batter.
Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and bake for 30 to 40 min until fully set and golden on top.