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Trash strike: Lessons learned

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By Amber Hildebrandt, CBCNews.ca


Today was the first day of residential garbage pickup in Toronto after a five-week strike. As I walked to the subway station, the stench from fetid trash piled up on the sidewalk was almost unbearable.

The smell of trash is something I definitely won't miss about this strike. But I have to admit that I can thank the strikers for one thing: raising awareness about the ridiculous amount of garbage we all produce.

For months, I've been on a crusade to reduce my trash. I focused on packaging: not using plastic bags when buying produce, purchasing products with little or no packaging and refilling my cleaning supply bottles at Grassroots.

But I was unprepared for the lesson I learned during the strike. Before it, I had given little thought to my food waste. The city has a green bin program for organics. Each week, I dutifully tossed out a small bag or two of past-its-prime produce.

As the strike rolled on, though, I was running out of freezer and fridge space for my food waste. And I was realizing that it wasn't just peelings and end bits. Much of it was unnecessary. It was little consolation to find out that studies show about one-third of bought food is thrown out.

With my organic waste threatening to overflow, I had to do something. Here are some of the ways I tackled my growing mound:

Just eat it
I usually toss fruits and vegetables about to edge past their prime, but during the strike I found myself taking a second look. Could I rejuvenate that lettuce with an ice bath? Could I use that bruised peach in a baked dish? Often, it was edible with a little coaxing.

Freeze it
Most food can be frozen, even items you wouldn't normally think of. So before it turns brown, look online to see whether the food is freezer suitable.

Plan your meals
Perhaps an unappetizing option for the creative foodie who enjoys cooking on a whim, but setting out a meal schedule for even a few days can drastically reduce food waste. During the strike, I realized that my kid-in-a-candy-store mentality to grocery shopping caused me to make all kinds of impulse purchases. Plus, planning my meals reminded me of how often I was eating out.

Buy bulk
As a woman living alone, I'm not usually a fan of buying bulk. First of all, I can barely lug enough groceries home for week. I also live in a small space and don't eat a lot. But bulk bins have lately become my best foodie friend. I shovel rice, beans, pasta and baking staples into plastic bags, then transfer them into jars at home. Then I reuse the bags during my next visit. Ta da. Saving the planet several plastic bags at a time.

Shop around
I have found that some stores, like Metro, excessively package their produce, such as putting small cucumbers on a Styrofoam tray wrapped in plastic. So try to find a store that leaves its produce loose. Farmers markets are always a good option.

Learn about your food
Did you know that bananas shouldn't go in the fridge? Neither should tomatoes. But if you buy unripe peaches, leave them on the counter until they are ripe and then keep them in the fridge. Prevent your perishables from perishing too soon by doing a bit of research. Farmers at the markets are a great resource and eager to share their know-how.

Those are a few of my lessons learned. How about you? Did your food habits change during the strike? How do you reduce food waste?

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Comments

Bill Lee

Calgary

Eat lower in the food chain. Learn to brown or cook things that you eat raw (oranges, peaches, onions, apples) things with a lot of sugar that reveals itself under high heat.

Get a mandolin and slice hard veg and fruits as julienned or paper thin slices. Often when in that shape they don't need to be cooked (as much) at all.

Cut the meat and fish consumption down to half the size of your palm per person per day.

Set up a compost pile, in kitchen or yard for the really bad.

Shop and count units per week, rather than a bag of apples. See Mark Bittman's 101 salads last Wednesday in the NYT and mark those without "thin-leaved" ingredients. Much of spoiling is losing water. Temperature monitor the closets, floor etc. for the coolest part of the house/room. Store some 'root' vegetables there instead of fridge.

Take cash and a list when grocery shopping and when out or checked off, stop. Rotate your fresh stuff more often, grow some yourself, beg neighbours for fresh, still growing unrotted veg. Despite Toronto rain, it can be kept off a small garden of still growing non-rotten veg.

Get http://www.sourceforge.net/nutrition/nut and see what you have been eating in the past week and what gaps you need to close in nutrition.

Stay away from organic food stores.

Posted August 5, 2009 03:58 PM

Colleen Edmunds (nee janzen)

Grunthal

Hi Amber

We follow many of the tips you suggested for using food - plan, shop properly, just eat it (as a society, we usually don't consume enough fruit/veg).

I make a big pot of soup with "on the edge" vegetables. Add some beans or lentils. Then I freeze it in cottage cheese containers, which is suitable to take for my lunch or to have a quick supper ready at home.

Posted August 6, 2009 12:25 PM

Lorna

Vancouver

Another thing I do is save all the end bits and peelings in a big zip lock bag in the fridge.. onion ends, celery ends, garlic skins, carrot peels, even apple cores and egg shells! When the bag is full I empty into my slow cooker and cover with water.. a few hours of simmering produces a tasty (and free) vegetable stock that only needs a little seasoning!

Posted August 6, 2009 02:51 PM

Sally

This is a good idea you have started. If the H1N1 hits hard, there may be intermittent trash pick up, and intermittent grocery delivery. JIT may not work.
Having a plan of what to do with waste (and how to reduce and reuse) will help in those times.
How about input from lots of others of ways to save money, the planet, and reduce waste of food?
Aside from the egg shells, I am going to start doing that in the winter months - that is when we have lots of vegitarian chili.
Thanks for this article Amber.

Posted August 6, 2009 11:25 PM

Mark

Wellesley

All good suggestions.
A composter makes wonderful sense, and potting soil.

Posted August 14, 2009 12:35 PM

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About the blog

From trends and culture to politics and nutrition, Food Bytes serves up tasty tidbits about food and the issues surrounding it that flavour our everyday lives.

About the writers

Amber Hildebrandt Amber Hildebrandt writes for CBCNews.ca in Toronto. Growing up on a farm in Manitoba, she acquired an insatiable appetite, but it was during a stint in Japan that she developed her discerning tastebuds and "foodie" ways.

Andrea Chiu Andrea Chiu is an associate producer at CBC Radio Digital. Though she loves to eat, cook and discuss food, don't ask her to bake. It never turns out well. She tweets as @TOfoodie on Twitter and organizes food and wine events in Toronto called FoodieMeet.

Tara Kimura Tara Kimura is the consumer life reporter for CBCNews.ca, covering a wide range of issues that range from rising food costs and the growing organic movement, to new trends in the marketplace.

Andree Lau Andree Lau is a CBC web reporter in Calgary. Her journalism career includes seven years as a CBC-TV reporter. Her own blog called "are you gonna eat that?" chronicles her eating adventures (including sampling snake and camel hoof tendon).

Jessica Wong Jessica Wong is a CBCNews.ca writer who loves to eat and cook, as well as discuss, read and watch programming about food, sometimes all at once.

Kevin Yarr Kevin Yarr, CBCNews.ca's writer in Prince Edward Island, wrote about food and beer for national and regional magazines before joining the CBC. He acquired a desire for new tastes on his first trip to Europe, and an appreciation of eating locally and in season when he finally settled down on P.E.I.

Elizabeth Bridge Elizabeth Bridge is a writer with the CBC Digital Archives in Toronto. She first ventured into the kitchen as a child to indulge a sweet tooth by baking cookies and making fudge. A student budget compelled her to be a vegetarian (for a while) and instilled in her an ongoing curiosity about food and cooking.

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