Thanksgiving is a holiday that celebrates abundance and, on the flip side, the banishing of scarcity with an all-American feast — much of which may be feeding a landfill in the days that follow.
Which makes me think: One way to express gratitude for abundance is to avoid waste, on Thanksgiving and every other day.
Short of simply not eating food, there are a lot of ways we can incorporate anti-waste efforts into our routines.
Some of them are fun. Most are easy enough, but you’ll get better with practice. All are gratifying.
Full disclosure: I am far from perfect at this kind of avoidance, but I’m improving.
Here are a few ideas to help you put “thanksgiving” into action:
This is the first and most obvious way to make use of the nutrients in food we’re not going to eat — and to reduce the volume of material shipped to landfills. The simplest ways to compost involve plant materials, though meat products can be composted as well using slightly different methods.
Use your uneaten carrots and tomato cores to build soil structure and feed the plants in your yard or in pots. There are plenty of how-to’s online, but basically you’ll be tossing your fruits and veggies, egg shells and other refrigerator refuse, mixing it with some dry materials like leaves and paper bags, ash from the barbecue, wetting it and turning it. In return you get this aromatic — yes, it smells good when it’s broken down — soil that non-composting gardeners pay good money for.
This turns unused mushroom stems, carrot ends, celery leaves and random potatoes that didn’t make it to the table into productive citizens. Beef bones and chicken, too.
In addition to using stock as a base for soup, keep it on hand for braising, for risotto or other rice recipes to add richness. Almost any savory dish that calls for water can benefit from the extra dimension a nice stock contributes.
And it’s easy.
Basic recipes will tell you to sauté onions, celery and carrots in olive oil for four or five minutes, then add other vegetables, a few parsley stems and other fresh herbs, if you have them. Toss in some white wine, a bay leaf and then finish with several cups of water and salt. Bring to a boil and let simmer for about half an hour. If you’re missing carrots, celery, wine, etc., no worries. I have made beautiful broth without them. The only thing I never leave out is onion.
All of a sudden, “ugly food” is all the rage. These are vegetables and fruits that once were discarded because they were a bit bruised or lumpy, had spots or just weren’t pretty enough for the store shelf.
Now there’s a movement afoot to restore our faith in the odd-looking tomato. By choosing a weird carrot at the farmer’s market or thinking twice before tossing a carrot that has gone slightly soft, you can reduce food waste and the social and environmental degradation that accompanies it.
And you’ll be eating well while you’re at it.
Commit to Eating What You Buy
No one purchases a bunch of asparagus thinking it’s really just a donation to the grocery store and they’ll be discarding it in a week or so. Neither do most people ask themselves if they are buying too much.
The predictable result is that food that goes bad in the crisper or on the kitchen counter. One way to work the commitment may involve realignment: If you’re the kind of cook — like so many of us — who starts with a recipe or an idea of what you want to make and then stocks up on ingredients, it could be time to pivot and start with the ingredients instead. Pick what’s fresh and local, take it home, and then decide what to make based on what you have.
Look for recipes that encourage improvisation. Look up substitutes. If a recipe calls for milk and all you have is half-and-half, you can probably water it down. (Or maybe you can replace the dairy with some of your delicious soup stock.)
Grow Your Own
When you’ve raised it from a seedling, you know the value of each individual plant. You’ll be loathe to let their fruits go to waste.
Have friends who keep chickens, pigs or goats? Those critters will eat your table scraps, yum yum — especially greens.
Canning & Pickling
This is another traditional art that’s newly trendy. In particular, fermentation, one of the earliest methods of food preparation — dating many thousands of years — is back in style, with all kinds of purported health benefits.