There’s a turkey the size of Plymouth Rock thawing in my refrigerator when I stumble across the following startling statistic on the internet: Americans throw away $218 billion worth of food each year. Well, dang.
I go to my refrigerator, open the door and stare at my colossal turkey. I’ll be serving six for Thanksgiving and that includes me and my cat. Maybe I should give the turkey to someone with a longer guest list. I could always roast a package of hotdogs, except they don’t go as well with cranberries.
But right after Thanksgiving, I could start doing more to reduce food waste. The average American throws away around 25 percent of the food and beverages they purchase—I read it on the internet so it must be true. And I think this is yet another area of my life where I could be below average.
According to my research, reducing food waste comes down to four simple steps.
1) Planning menus. This should be easy for me because I cook the same five meals over and over. The problem is, there are days I just I can’t face them one more time, so I head to my massive cookbook collection. I have more cookbooks than Rachael Ray, but don’t take that as a sign that I like to cook. Most of them were gifts from people who were hoping I’d make something new for our next potluck.
Cookbooks are dangerous. As I gaze at the beautiful food photographs, I’m overcome by optimism. I convince myself that, not only will I have time to stuff chicken breasts with a mixture of chopped mushrooms, spinach and feta cheese, I’ll feel like doing it when the time comes.
I may even go so far as to pick up the ingredients for Blue Cheese Potato Cakes. But then, I come home from work tired and hungry and I serve grilled cheese and tomato soup from a can. The ingredients for the fancy chicken and the Blue Cheese Potato Cakes are forgotten in my refrigerator. Eventually even feta and blue cheese go bad.
2) Make a grocery list. The article didn’t mention this, but I know from experience, the best grocery list is the one you remember to bring to the store.
Also, a grocery list is only as good as your willingness to follow it. There are two reasons I go off script at the grocery store. One, I’m a sucker for BOGO. I once had two 10-pound bags of Russet potatoes rotting in my basement just because I’m willing to spend twice as much for an item that’s advertised as, “Buy one, get one free.”
The second reason I purchase items that aren’t on my list is because I like them—a lot. (Some examples include chocolate, chocolate and chocolate.) Fortunately when I buy something I love that’s not on my list, it seldom winds up in the trash. Sometimes it doesn’t even make it to my car.
3) Store food in a safe and organized manner. Disorganization makes it harder to remember what you have. You go about your life oblivious to the fact that somewhere in the depths of your refrigerator expiration dates are passing and perishables are perishing.
4) Eat your leftovers, or at least force your family to eat them. When I look at that giant bird thawing in my refrigerator, I don’t just see Thanksgiving dinner, I see turkey soup, turkey sandwiches, turkey casserole, turkey this and turkey that for weeks to come. When it comes to reducing food waste, this is one area where I excel, though my family may not see it as a talent.
(Dorothy Rosby is the author of several humor books, including I Used to Think I Was Not That Bad and Then I Got to Know Me Better. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.)