Let's Talk Trash

When it comes to food and health, the agriculture system, and consumer choices, the conversation often starts around the dinner table. Laurie David, activist and producer, has written The Family Cooks, with Kirstin Uhrenholdt, her longtime collaborator, to get us talking about dishes that are simple, fast, “low in the bad stuff and high in the good stuff” – and that bring kids into the cooking process.  They demystify cooking terms and break down basic prep techniques to help us make stress-free meals that foster health, togetherness and happy palates.

Laurie has given us an exclusive excerpt below to share with you, and we will share a few of her recipes down the road.  Get to the farmer’s market to enjoy the spring produce bounty.    

Let’s Talk Trash by Laurie David

Of all the rooms in the house, the kitchen produces the most waste. Food scraps are the number one contributor to landfills today, making up 21 percent of all landfill trash by weight.1 That doesn't even include food packaging. Yes, we need to recycle, but it's even more important to avoid creating waste in the first place. Here are some suggestions.

1. Purchase kitchen tools that will last many years (i.e., won't wind up on landfills) and that you really will use. Fall in love with stainless steel or cast-iron skillets that you will never have to replace. Think twice before you buy any plastic kitchen gidgetybob ... are you really going to use it?

2. Reduce the single-use items in your kitchen, like paper plates, plastic cups, and straws. Every year, Americans throw away enough paper and plastic cups, forks, and spoons to circle the equator 300 times.2

3. Buy fruit that isn't perfect. A lot of good fruits and vegetables are thrown out because their size, shape, or color are a bit off. Choose produce that's unique and you'll find they're not only delicious, but you'll be reducing food waste.

4. Use your freezer. Freeze fresh produce and leftovers before they go bad for a quick, healthy meal on days when your time is limited.

5. Use durable glass, metal, or porcelain containers for storing leftovers. Challenge yourself not to use plastic wrap and bags for a week and invite your family and friends to join in. We use glass pie dishes and dinner plates to cover bowls of food. We love our glass canning jars, which we use to store leftovers and to hold our bulk pantry goods like grains and pasta. They even go to school and picnics. In 2011, containers and packaging amounted to 75.6 million tons of total kitchen waste generated.3

6. Keep several reusable grocery bags in your car so they will never be forgotten (and reuse any little plastic produce bags you need). After you unload your groceries, leave the bags by your front door, ready for their trip back into your trunk!. Every piece of plastic ever produced still exists in some form. Every year, Americans use approximately 102.1 billion plastic bags, creating tons of landfill waste and pollution in our waterways.

7. Keep a pitcher of water and a few filled reusable water canteens ready to go in the fridge--it's an easy way to reduce the number of plastic water bottles in the world. Most tap water is healthy, and in fact tap water is more regulated for contaminants than bottled water. Also, many plastic bottles contain the chemical BPA, which is a nasty hormone disrupter that you don't want to drink. Go to EWG.org for more information on BPA. Eighty-six percent of plastic water bottles used in the United States become garbage that ends up in landfills throughout the country. Considering that approximately 60 million plastic water bottles are used every day in the United States, we can assume that nearly 18,834,000 end up in the landfill each year.

8. Buy a stack of reusable dishcloths for cleaning, instead of using paper towels and napkins, and use cloth napkins at the table. Cloth looks better, it's more economical, and you'll save trees. Beware of paper towel abusers in your home. Of the 741 pounds of paper used by the average American each year, close to 55 pounds is tissue paper (which includes paper towels, napkins, facial tissue, and toilet tissue).

9. Dip into bulk bins. You will have less packaging to dispose of, it will cost you less, and you get to store the goods in those nice Ball canning jars we always talk about. Another benefit is you can buy just what you need for a particular recipe instead of an entire jar that will gather dust.

10. Compost! If you have a garden, get a compost bin--some cities give them away for free. You will feel so much better about all those peels, tips, tops, and tails when you are tossing them into a compost bin. The amount of trash in your bin will reduce at the same speed as your garden will grow.

11. Rethink your plate size. Dinner plate sizes have increased 36 percent since the 1960s. Consider going back to a 9- or 10-inch dinner plate. Less space makes less waste ... and smaller plates will fit more snugly in the dishwasher (bonus: more water efficiency). Less space also makes less waist: Research shows that most of us tend to eat what's put in front of us, so smaller cups and plates curb consumption.

12. Love your leftovers. Eat them as timesaving small meals or repurpose them into something new: Toss them with grains, fold them into eggs, or blend them into soups. Become an expert at this and you'll save time, money, and aggravation.

13. Most important, don't buy more than you will use. It is unconscionable how much food we throw away every day. (See "A Fresh Look at the Expiration Date," page 28.) Forty percent of the food purchased in the United States today goes uneaten! For more information about food waste, please visit the NRDC at nrdc.org/food/wasted-food.asp


  1. http://www.epa.gov/foodrecovery/
  2. http://www.cleanair.org/Waste/wasteFacts.html
  3. http://www.epa.gov/osw/nonhaz/municipal/pubs/MSWcharacterization1/4fnl1/40607131/421/4rpt.pdf

Reprinted from THE FAMILY COOKS by Laurie David and Kirstin Uhrenholdt. Copyright (c) 2014 by Hybrid Nation Inc. By permission of Rodale Books. Available wherever books are sold. 

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