Chickens · Sustainability

The Hierarchy of Leftovers

I’ve never understood people who waste food. I cringe when I go to a restaurant and see vacant tables with several meals’ worth of leftovers abandoned by those who just paid and departed. Americans are especially bad about this with our highly inefficient, overproductive food system. We waste about 40% of the food we produce each year, some of which ends up tossed without ever being sold to the consumer.

But people throw away a lot of food at home, too. That can range from scary, moldy science experiments from the back of the fridge, to perfectly good food left at the end of the meal because for some reason the idea of reheating food bothers some people. We also often throw away food before it’s actually gone bad, either because the expiration date has arrived or the food isn’t 100% fresh (but still edible.)

I have made something of a culinary art in my kitchen of salvaging food that’s almost, but not quite, to that boundary. Mind you, I’m careful not to eat anything that’s definitely gone bad. But wilty lettuce, or hard cheese where one end has a tiny bit of mold (easily cut off), or plums that are just a little bit wrinkled around the edges–these get priority on cooking nights.

This has helped me to seriously cut down on food waste in my own one-person home, as has visualized food being thrown away as money going in the dumpster. Thankfully, now that I’m on a farm there’s a whole line of animals waiting for whatever I’m not going to eat.

I’m first in that line, of course. Since I’m alone I can easily cook once or twice a week and have meals for days. I’ll often cook five or six individual dishes at one time, and then just graze among them as I get hungry. So it is that I consume most of what I cook.

Next in line are my landmate’s parrots, one of whom hangs out in my living room and the other two in an aviary in the barn. They tend to get top choice bits of whatever I’m eating, as well as slightly unsightly things like the bruised bits of apples and apricots. Here, too, is my dog Pikka, who is low-level spoiled with a bit of cheese, egg or meat now and then. (She also, strangely enough, loves dried seaweed and cooked red cabbage.)

Pretty much anything that I won’t eat because it’s gone stale, or a little off, or I’ve just made way too much of it and there’s not really enough to justify freezing, goes to the chickens. They also get things like watermelon rinds, corn cobs, and other odds and ends that they can scrape a few calories off of. I also give them back their egg shells, crushed, for calcium. This supplements their diet of Flock Feeder, and whatever plants and bugs they glean from the large fenced-in shore pine forest attached to the chicken run. They’re great little garbage disposals, and they turn everything into delicious eggs.

Occasionally something ends up moldy or otherwise too spoiled to safely consume. This gets tossed in with the stuff that just lacks calorie content like corn husks and paper towels. All this goes into the compost heap, where a variety of fungi, bacteria and other microorganisms go to work turning it into beautiful fertilizer. I do really wish municipal compost was as common as weekly garbage pickup; it would make the landfills fill up more slowly, and it would give gardeners more free (or at least very cheap) fertilizer if their own compost wasn’t enough.

I know I’m lucky. I have the space to be able to have chickens and compost, and I have the luxury of time to cook at home. But I’d urge you, my readers, to see what you’re able to do to cut food waste in your home, even just a little. It all does add up when we all pitch in!

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