One evening, as my boyfriend sautéed veggies for a stir-fry, I watched him toss a handful of chopped rainbow chard into the pan—bright pink stems and all. I’d never even thought to cook the stems like that. Sure, I’ve seen pretty mason jars of pickled stems while scrolling on Pinterest, but canning has always been on my “I’ll get around to that one day” list. Yet something about those sizzling chard slices suddenly made me feel guilty for all of the unwanted bits of produce I’d carelessly tossed in the trash.
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In the U.S., we waste 30 to 40 percent of our food supply, and each person throws away more than 20 pounds of food every month, according to statistics from World Food Day. That explains why food waste makes up the largest part of our landfills, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. If that’s not upsetting enough, a report from the World Resources Institute found that, worldwide, nearly a quarter of all calories produced for people to eat don’t actually get eaten. In summary, I felt guilty about throwing away perfectly usable produce because I should feel guilty—I’m a part of our major food resource problem.
So what’s a food waster to do? Start composting, yes. But as someone who doesn’t garden, I also wanted to make better use of my purchased produce inside my home. I live alone and shop frugally, so wasting half cartons of milk or leftover chili isn’t a problem for me. Chucking spoiling green onions left in the back of my veggie drawer because I bought them specifically for one recipe is another story. That’s why I decided to try my hardest to stop trashing food (coffee grounds, mushroom bottoms, everything) for a month. Here’s what I learned throughout the process.