Spring is now fully upon us which means that more vegetables and fruit are appearing at your local farmers markets. These goodies will continue to be grown, harvested and sold throughout the Summer but what about the Fall and Winter when the same great fresh vegetables and fruits aren’t available? There are so many options for preserving local foods so you can use them in weeks or months instead of buying them from far off countries that have different growing seasons.
A note about wasting food: the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that about half of all food that is grown each year is never consumed. This includes restaurants that throw out uneaten food, households that toss unused leftovers, and crops that are never utilized by consumers. Of all the wasted food, approximately 90% finds its way to landfills, creating the second largest waste stream after paper products (where a far greater percentage is recycled or reused) and making food waste is everyone’s problem because it depletes landfill space. Besides, who wants to waste the excellent local ingredients they buy?
To help you reduce your food waste, here are some easy ways to either preserve food you buy or make use of leftover food scraps. Of course, these are but a few options so feel free to leave your tips and experiences in the comments for others to see!
- Storing herbs. One of my cooking friends has a great technique for keeping herbs: cut their stems, put them in a glass of water, then cover with the plastic bag they came in and put them in the fridge. If you keep the water clean and snip off the good leaves regularly, they can last up to three weeks in the fridge.
- Canning and jarring. There are hundreds of websites and books dedicated to this method of preserving food. My favorite is this one about canning but the University of Georgia has an excellent resource about the benefits of canning. Tomatoes are the best candidate for canning and jarring but there are always jams, jellies and preserves for those of us that love fruit and want it all year round. The great part of jarring and canning is that you preserve the majority of the nutritional value of the food your preserving!
- Vacuum sealing/freezing. You can buy vacuum sealers from many online retailers and they will pay themselves off with all the food you won’t have to throw away.
- Simple freezing. You can freeze the majority of food for later use. I typically freeze all bread and meat that I buy because I am only feeding two people at most meals so we don't go through food quickly. Try freezing vegetable scraps next time you make a stir fry to use for stock or broth later.
- Composting. This is a great option if you have a yard or a farm. My family composts in our horse manure pile which is easy, especially if you have a friend with a front end loader. There are even ways to compost in an apartment-type space as well: Gwen, the guest poster from two weeks ago, uses a product called Bokashi to compost on her window sill in DC. If you live in Mecklenburg County, there is a class you can take on backyard composting which I've heard is excellent.
- Plan ahead. The easiest thing you can do to reduce wasted food and get the most out of what you buy is don’t buy bags and bags of food at the market without knowing when you’re going to use them or how you’ll make them keep if you don’t. This can take some planning but will pay off when you don’t waste food by throwing out items that can’t be frozen or jarred.