We all know the popular mantra, “When in doubt, throw it out,” but doesn’t that seem just a little wasteful? I know, I know, it’s probably better to toss it than to suffer a bout of food poisoning. But the fact remains that a lot of food which was once perfectly good is getting lost and forgotten in the back of the fridge.
In fact, a study from the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab found 93 percent of survey respondents acknowledged buying food they never used. Jonathan Bloom, author of “American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food,” blames a lot of it on refrigerator clutter.
“It gets frustrating when you forget about something and discover it two weeks later,” Bloom said. “So many people these days have these massive refrigerators, and there is this sense that we need to keep them well stocked. But there’s no way you can eat all that food before it goes bad.”
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could shop every day for the contents of your dinner? In some cultures, they do. Jordan Ferny, a San Fransisco business owner and writer of the popular blog, “Oh Happy Day,” is spending time in France this year. Initially finding it amusing that her landlord took her out to “learn how to shop,” she believes she’s found the key to happiness, as well as the key to getting her picky son to eat his veggies.
In certain regions around the world, and even in parts of the United States, niche shops are readily available just blocks from people’s homes. It’s easy to shop daily for the items you need, utilizing specialty stores for cheese, meat and even fresh flowers. It’s sort of like having a farmer’s market that’s open every day. And best of all, there’s no waste when you know what you need in the moment and you can use it up right away.
“It is a luxury to have such fresh food every day. We eat a warm baguette every night with our dinner that we bought five minutes before. We are just cooking simple recipes but the ingredients are such good quality that every night feels like a special meal,” explains Ferny.
But for most, it’s just like Ferny describes it, a luxury. Many U.S. suburbs, and even the smaller cities, don’t really offer its patrons the enjoyment of such an array of shopping opportunities. That’s when utilizing the available farmer’s markets come into play, and yes, even in winter.
Currently there are 698 farmer’s markets open in winter in the United States, with a 17 percent increase since 2009. The National Farmer’s Market Directory, released just last December from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, attributes the rise to the increase in popularity of shopping locally, a way to assure you’re getting the most bang for your buck.
“Buying daily or bi-weekly is important because when you go to the farmer’s market, your produce is guaranteed freshly picked ripe yesterday or that very day,” explains Heidi Hofelich, a sustainable agriculture student and farmer at Csarda Haz Ranch. “Your food isn’t shipped far from countries on the other side of the equator, where it’s picked green… we need vital minerals in our food that conventional mainstream agriculture fails to recognize.”
So it’s no surprise the popularity of farmer’s markets is on the rise. But with the busy lives of modern Americans, sometimes it’s still too hard to squeeze in the extra trip. In that case, lots of areas offer the ability to order fresh produce from a CSA (community supported agriculture) right to your doorstep.
But no matter how the produce ultimately ends up in the fridge, it all comes back to the issue of waste. Here are a few tips for keeping your precious produce fresh:
- add moist paper towels to leafy greens
- cut off the tops of radishes, carrots, and beets
- don’t tear up lettuce for salads until the time of use
- keep veggies in crisper drawers, but not so cold they develop frost
- keep herbs in a cup of water (or other stemmed veggies)
- use see-through containers
There are many other ways to prolong the life of fresh food in the fridge, and even when it starts to look questionable, “try to give the food the benefit of the doubt,” persists Bloom. With 40 percent of food waste happening in the home, I might just try that.
Photo credit: Tracy Petrucci