Saturday, November 14, 2009

Winter Keepers

I've been trying to follow my own advice, and use produce I have on hand before it gets away from me. This includes apples from our trees. We have several boxes in the garage. I need to go through them every week or 10 days, to pull out any that are starting to get soft spots or show bruises. So, what do you do with a box of "immediate" apples? I put up seven pints by waterbath canning, for future desserts, and made a big pan of Apple Pandowdy:

Apple Pandowdy

Amounts for a 12x8 baking pan

4 1/2 cups washed, cored, sliced apples (I don't bother to peel, and they're fine)
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4-1/3 cup sugar, succanat or brown sugar
5 Tbs butter
1/3 cup sugar, succanat or brown sugar
2 small or 1 large egg
3/4 cup brown rice flour plus 6 Tbs millet flour (or use 1 cup plus 2 Tbs unbleached or whole wheat flour)
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange apples in bottom of pan, sprinkle with spices and sugar, bake 30 minutes. Meanwhile, cream butter and sugar together, stirring in egg(s), then add flours, salt, and baking powder and milk, stirring to mix. Remove apples from oven, spread batter over apples, sealing to sides as possible. Return to oven for another 30 minutes baking.

This will remind you of a baked pancake. Lots of fruit for the amount of cake. Very nice with ice cream; we just had it plain and it was yummy. A traditional American dish.

Wild West Beans

2 cups dry navy beans, picked over and soaked overnight
1/4 lb sliced bacon or rinsed salt pork, diced
1 Tbs cumin seed
1/2 cup chopped onion
6 juniper berries
1/2-1 tsp chipotle chile powder (to taste)
4 sliced cloves garlic
1 tsp dry oregano
1/4 cup tomato sauce
salt to taste

Drain beans and cook in fresh water until about tender. In another pan, cook bacon or salt pork until fat starts to flow, then add cumin and onion, saute 5 minutes. If there is still a lot of water on the beans, pour most of it off, leaving water to just cover; or if necessary, add water to just cover. Stir in bacon and seasonings including the fat, juniper, chipotle powder, garlic, and oregano. Simmer 1 1/2 hours, covered. Make sure it doesn't go dry. Then add tomato sauce and salt to taste, and cook another 15 minutes.

Finally, what do you do with those black radishes? ("I thought radishes were red?") If you aren't lucky enough to have black radish, you can use daikon in a similar way.

Black Radish Slaw
2-3 black radishes, or 1 lb daikon, peeled and grated
3 cups finely cut cabbage
1 cup coarsely grated carrots
1/2 cup sliced green onions, or slivered shallot or leek
2 tablespoons lemon juice or good cider vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp sugar or honey
2 tablespoons fresh herbs, if available--could be parsley, mint, marjoram, cilantro, or you could use 2 tsp dried herbs of your choice
freshly-ground black pepper to taste

Put veggies in a big bowl. Put lemon juice, oil, and sugar in a little jar and shake well, then pour over veggies. Sprinkle on herbs and black pepper, toss well. Taste and add salt, more lemon juice, more pepper, or whatever you think you'd like.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Hierarchy of Food Waste

To do your part to reduce food waste, you need to do some planning. First, make plans of what you would do with extra food of various types rather than landfill it. This is particularly important for perishable food such as meat, dairy products, vegetables, and fruits.

Plan A: Do what you can to preserve the food for your family: freeze meat before it turns, or cook into soups, stews, casseroles, etc., and freeze them (be SURE to use wide-mouth freezer-safe jars or plastic tubs). Can soups with a pressure canner. Mildly freezer-burned meats can be cooked in stews or braised; you'll probably never know the difference.

Vegetables can be canned, lactofermented, frozen, or dried. BE SURE to do this while they're still fresh, before they get wilted, discolored, or slimey. Fruits can be cooked into desserts, dried in pieces or as rollups, frozen, made into jams and jellies... well, you get the picture. Milk can be made into fresh cheese; fresh cheese can be frozen successfully. (Look for a post on this subject soon.) Same for cream or half-n-half, if you ever have such things left over. Or you can use milk or cream in soups, casseroles, puddings, etc.

If your storage is full, your freezer is full, you know you'll never use the food if you stored it (frozen and canned foods don't keep forever), no one in your family likes the food (buying mistake), or you feel that you have enough, then go to...

Plan B: Give the food to other humans. This includes family members, friends, neighbors, the less fortunate, food banks, food drives, and other charities. The best use of human food is for humans. Food banks probably won't take fresh meat and dairy products, unless truly fresh and unopened, for obvious reasons. Check first. But in general they are happy to take surplus vegetables and fruits, including fruits from your yard that are in excess of your ability to use them. Be sure to do this while the produce is still attractive and useful.

Sometimes, however, food items just get away from us; we turn our backs and they wilt, go sour, turn brown, etc. Not fit for human consumption. Now you can go for...

Plan C: Give the food to animals. If you have chickens, they're perfect! I give my chickens anything except chicken; they're omnivores like us, and will happily eat meat that is starting to turn, old dairy products, mushy fruits, etc. (Actually, chickens would eat chicken perfectly happily, but it's evil to feed animals their own kind.)

Perhaps you have friends with chickens, or even pigs. Don't feed pigs raw meat of any kind, to break the cycle of disease. But the meat could be cooked. Meat slightly past its prime or freezer-burned could also be given to dogs or cats, in modest quantities. Tired old casseroles, freezer burned vegetables, it all looks good to a pig.

Perhaps you don't know anyone with chickens or pigs. And that food is definitely over the hill. Next step:

Plan D: Compost it! If you have land, or even a neighborhood garden spot, get a compost heap going. Non-meat food scraps, outside leaves of cabbage, rotting apples, you get the idea, mixed with fallen leaves, grass clippings, and similar stuff. You can find numerous books with information on composting. Put it in, then let it work. Next year, add it to your gardens or flower beds. It is suggested not to put meat-based foods into compost unless the bins are secure, to keep down problems with skunks, bears, raccoons, the neighborhood dog, etc.

Plan E: The last useful stop on the food waste bandwagon is biogas generation. I don't know of any around here, but in Britain they have loads of them, using all kinds of food waste from "post-consumer" to factory wastes. Methane (natural gas) is generated--very useful stuff. The residue is a good soil amendment. The challenge is getting the icky stuff to the biogas plant, but the British are figuring it out.

Plan F (for failure): The worst thing to do with your food waste is to send it to the landfill. There it rots underground along with the rest of the stuff, producing methane and other greenhouse gases which make their way to the surface and into the atmosphere. Many communities are having problems with overly-full dumps and landfills.

This is waste of the worst sort--human labor and fossil fuels used to grow the food, which is now not of any use to any living thing, and increases the greenhouse gas and waste disposal problems.

BTW have you thought about the term "fossil fuels"? Fossil fuels were laid down under the ground along with the fossils. The natural cycles which make these things take millions of years. But we're burning through it as if there is no tomorrow....

Oh, another thing, "tomorrow", as in the next few decades, is going to be different from the last 50 years. Hate to break the news to you. The excesses that we're accustomed to are going to disappear. Somewhere between a technological paradise on the one hand, and apocalypse on the other hand, is where we're headed. If you want to read some really well-reasoned articles on these and related subjects, try the Archdruid Report.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Food Waste--A Global Tragedy

I have recently finished reading Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal, by British author Tristram Stuart. His analysis features the UK food distribution system, with significant contributions about the U.S. system and other European countries. The facts are scandalous, as he says. This book is well worth the reading. Here are a few highlights.

Food waste starts right at the farm, particularly with contract growers for supermarkets. Supermarket chains order x pounds of something, like carrots, to be delivered by y date, but they can reduce their order if by that time, demand is down, they already have too many, or for any other reason.

If the grower does NOT deliver x pounds of carrots at that time, he/she is liable to lose their contract for the next year. Weather or crop failure is not an excuse, so the grower who wants to keep their contract will plant more rows of carrots than needed.

If the supermarket chain reduces its order arbitrarily, the grower is left with excess carrots. Or if there is a bumper crop, probably the other growers have one too. The residual value of all those extra carrots is probably not worth the trouble of packaging, shipping and marketing, so they are often plowed under.

Next, a tremendous amount of food waste is caused by "aesthetic" considerations. Carrots must be perfectly straight, so they all fit neatly into those bags. Non-straight carrots are dumped or sold for animal feed, or in the U.S. are sent to be milled into "baby carrots". Potatoes that are too big: out they go. Apples that are too small: out they go. Any produce item with a little mark on it, a slightly funny color, etc., out they go. In some cases they go for animal food, in some cases particularly in Britain, they are used as feedstock for methane generation. But often they are just composted or plowed under.

It gets worse.

Sell-by dates are the culprit in much meat and dairy-related waste. These are very conservatively set; most foods are good for another several days or even a week or more. This factor combines with the desire of stores to be fully stocked with every possible item, even perishable, regardless of level of sales.

Between the overstocking and the pessimistic Sell-by dates, packaged entrees, sandwiches, salads, and similar foods are usually just dumped. Stuart says that in the U.K., the dumpsters are generally locked to prevent the poor from getting their hands on the food. If not that, the foods are emptied from their packaging and stirred all together with non-food waste to make them unusable. Due to landfill fees in the U.K., more of this waste is going to methane generation, generating pennies on the dollar of their worth as food for humans.

The loss to human food by dairy and meat waste is multiplied by the tremendous amount of human food (corn, soy, wheat, etc.) fed to conventional livestock.

Other sources of food waste include eating too much (waistline as waste), general dislike of organ meats (though some of this goes into pet food), the packaging of perishable food in amounts that are too large for singles or couples to use before they go bad, and the tendency of many children to take a bite of something and throw it away. And the waste of by-catch for seafood runs up to 90% for some items such as wild-caught shrimp. Waste of seafood is particularly tragic since many species are drastically overfished.

Another cause is poor household planning: buying what's on sale instead of what the family will eat; forgetting what you have in stock; getting busy or tired and eating out instead of eating what's on hand.

Stuart has done a great deal of research, and finds that counting waste sources from farm to garbage can, approximately 50% of food production is wasted in the sense that it is does not meet its destiny as human food. The U.S. has more than four times the amount of food required by the nutritional needs of the population (some is fed to livestock). The production of surplus food is a huge contributor to greenhouse gas emissions; the planting of trees on land used for wasted food would offset half to all of man-made emissions.

The good news is that enough food is produced now to give everyone in the world enough to eat. The bad news, of course, is that we do not do that. U.S. households spend about 9% of their income on food, half of what was spent a few decades ago. Food is SO CHEAP for most people that they do not value it. Convenience trumps instrinsic value. It must be especially galling for the hungry, especially in our wealthy nation, to know that tons of perfectly edible food end up in landfills. And it is not showing respect to the animals, the farmers, the land, the Earth, when we treat these resources as unimportant.

So what can we as individuals do? I welcome you to join me in trying to reduce the food waste in your own household. And I welcome suggestions from readers for specific and general ideas.

After all, it isn't just food, it's lives. Lives of food animals, lives of farmers, lives of wild animals whose habitat has been taken away for more soybeans or oil palm or whatever. It's past time for us to consider the Earth and its dwellers as precious.

* Be a better manager. Be aware of your stocks. Use or preserve items before they go bad. Buy only what you will use. There are a multitude of ways to use or preserve food items, and I'll discuss a few in upcoming posts.

* Buy direct from farmers, through CSAs, or through farmers markets or cooperatives. This will eliminate much of the "aesthetic" waste from the supermarkets. The crooked carrot and knobbly potato are perfectly good food.

* Buy grass-fed or pastured meat, dairy and eggs when you can. This will free up more food for humans, and will reduce the need for intensive monocultures.

* Teach your children to respect food. One way is to let them have a garden. The carrot they grew is more precious than the carrot from the supermarket. Or take them to a small farm or CSA, so they can see the plants and animals. Model respect for food in your own behavior.

* If you have fruit trees or shrubs in your yard, work at putting that harvest to good use, not just letting it fall on the sidewalk or be swept into the garbage.

I'll talk about some of the ways to reduce food waste on the community level soon.