Wednesday, March 10, 2021

The Secret of P.O.W! Reducing Food Waste

The pandemic has certainly presented some new challenges to low-waste living. Grocery stores have bagged up all their bulk items and banned re-usable produce bags. And then there's take out... We support local restaurants by picking up take-out once a week, but often end up with a trashcan full of plastic and Styrofoam. We so appreciate restaurants like Mama's Pizza ( and Zayna's ( that use compostable takeout containers!
We have found other ways to cut down on our waste - like making sun tea rather rather than purchasing the bottled variety. When Dan has time, he bakes his own bread so we don't get those plastic wrappers. During these challenging times, we do what we can manage. 

On the bright side, the pandemic has made us more mindful of our food waste. We have cut back our grocery shopping to every 3 or 4 weeks. As a result we have become more careful to use up everything in our refrigerator. I check what's left in the fridge when deciding what to have for dinner each night. My Nana would be proud!

Borderlands has taken up the challenge of food waste on a much bigger scale. In 2018-2019 Borderlands rescued 32 million pounds of unsold produce from ending up in landfills. Produce on Wheels distributes it to the public. You can get 70 lbs of produce for $15!

There is usually a line to pick it up, but often there is food left over that gets thrown out. So every few weeks, Dan gets up early on Saturday morning and rides his bike to load our 70 lbs of produce onto his yellow Burley cart.  Maybe you've seen him...

That's a lot of produce! How do we use it all up? We do our best. There are some things we have learned (sometimes from our mistakes) that I'd like to share with you.

1) Before picking up P.O.W., check the list of available produce.
Since the point is not to waste food, we make sure that they are offering foods that our family will actually eat. There have been times when we get a lot of some veggie we don't like. I give away what I can, but sadly some of it ends up in our compost pile.

2) Make a plan. You are going to get lot of food and it helps to have a plan of how you are going to use it. Before Covid, I used to make a big batch of ratatouille or green beans with tomatoes for potlucks. We also set up a produce table so people could help themselves. My friend Mia splits her bounty with a friend and makes salads for the week ahead. Maybe there is a local church you can give it to or you can share it with your neighbors. I recommend you do this right away because it will be VERY RIPE when you get it.

3) Processing your produce. First, enjoy going through your bounty. Take out any produce that's already going bad so the mold won't spread. We cut off the bad spots and make broth out of what's left (adding the ends of onion and celery for flavor) and then compost the parts we don't use. Use the produce that is the ripest first. Refrigerate what you can. That night I will start boiling the ripest tomatoes to make tomato sauce. My family has gotten spoiled having homemade marinara sauce made from fresh tomatoes (for like 28 cents a pound!)

4) Make a shopping list. Before heading to the store, I make a shopping list of the ingredients that I will need to supplement the veggies I got from P.O.W.  I keep track of what ingredients and leftovers I have left to work with. That makes it easy for me to figure out the menu for the week.

5) Enjoy your food! We usually pick up P.O.W. when they have tomatoes and squash. One of the first things we make is Three Sisters calabacitas (zucchini, black beans, corn, homemade stewed tomatoes, and onions - topped with cilantro and queso fresco). Yummy! This time we got a lot of summer squash, so we used that instead. Summer squash seems to get over-ripe pretty quickly so we had summer squash fritters the very next morning. We steamed some for dinner that night. You can't have steamed summer squash every night (or at least I can't) so we have to get creative. 

6) Freeze or pickle what's left. We got so many tomatoes this time that I went ahead and boiled and froze some in old gelato containers! Last month, we got so many cucumbers that Dan made easy refrigerator pickles. We used old pickle and mayonnaise jars.

As I mentioned before, I boil odds and ends with onions and celery to make veggie broth. This not only prevents food waste and keeps the packaging from the landfill, but it is also more delicious and nutritious than packaged brands. Sometimes the store brand is so watery that I'm not sure there are any veggies at all! I reuse old jelly jars to put the broth in.

This week we had a special treat - green chiles that we roasted on the metal rack in the oven. (We put a cookie sheet under them to catch the mess.) I used the broth, squash, some leftover black beans and the green chiles to make a zesty tortilla soup topped with cilantro and queso fresco (see pic at top of page.)

We also got a surprise this week - a lot of artichokes! What do we do with all those artichokes? We ate them with melted butter and then cut up the hearts to make spinach-artichoke dip and pasta salad with some of the cherry tomatoes we got. Did I forget to mention we got a crate of cherry tomatoes?

We hope you enjoy your P.O.W. bounty as much as we do. Since the point is to have as little waste as possible, I can't stress enough having a plan. And if you are giving away the food, do it as soon as possible. Maybe make some soup for an elderly neighbor who can't get out. Maybe set up a food pantry in a nearby park.

If you can't get rid of it fast enough, perhaps there is a neighbor who can give it to their chickens. Again, we struggle with this as well. Some of these lessons we learned from our mistakes. The cherry tomatoes went bad before we could figure out what to do with them. Looks like WMG's chickens will be getting a treat.

Check Produce on Wheels' calendar times and locations: 

You can also get 60 lbs of produce for $10 from Market on the Move

Read more ideas for food security here.

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