Saturday, February 14, 2009

Going loco for local? Augmenting a northern, local diet with 'second harvest' food.

Though I typically don't sign up for challenges myself, I do love seeing all the different, creative and fun challenges in the green blogosphere and the enthusiasm with which people cheerfully take on changing habits, learning new skills, experimenting and trying things for the first time.

Right now, Crunchy Chicken is hosting a food waste reduction challenge, and tons of people have signed up for it!

Food waste is a HUGE problem. Read this article and spend a little time over at Wasted Food and you'll get a sense of just how serious this issue is.

Food waste comes from a number of sources such as distribution warehouses, you and me and our fridges, restaurants, hotel chains and grocery stores. It's mind boggling just how much perfectly edible food gets wasted, much of it ending up in landfills and not even being properly composted.

There are many things we can do to reduce food waste, especially in the home. But as I was at the grocery store yesterday, keenly aware of how difficult it is to find local fare in February, living up here in the Great White North as I do, I realised there is another way to reduce food waste, save money and augment a local diet limited by climate.

Here's the secret: Most grocery stores have some kind of sale rack or odds and ends bin for the less than pretty produce, droopy lettuce, slightly bruised apples, wrinkled peppers, day old bread or other food that has just reached its 'sell by' date. This food is still perfectly edible! Sure it might not look so great, you may have to pare off the odd brown spot, or peel away a leaf or two, but it's good, healthy food, and unless unless it is purchased, it's food that will just get thrown out. (Some organisations, like Second Harvest collect this food for shelters and food banks, but so much of it goes directly into the trash.)

This is where you, the savvy, frugal, locavore, who's had a few too many roasted beets and rutabagas, come in. Visit your nearest food sale rack or odds and ends bin and help yourself to your own 'second harvest'! Sure that lettuce may be from California and those avocados are from Mexico, but unless someone buys them, they'll probably end up in the landfill and release methane, one of the worst kinds of greenhouse gases.

Yesterday, I got three large eggplants, a dozen tomatoes and eight bell peppers for about $6 dollars, off of the sale rack. One of the eggplants was just starting to go soft and a couple of the peppers looked a bit shrivelled, yet everything was still perfectly good. It needed to be cooked sooner rather than later, not having much of a shelf life left, so I tied on my apron and got to work making a big pot ratatouille. It made enough for multiple meals that I can freeze for later, save for lunches, share with the ADMGD....

One challenge to buying food this way is that you have to make hay while the sun shines, meaning the food won't stay fresh for much longer, so you don't have the luxury of time to let the food stay in your fridge for a few days before you get to it. The food will need to be cooked right away, so only buy it if you know that you have a couple of hours free that day or the next to prepare what you've bought. There's no sense in saving food from the grocery store's garbage bin if it's only going to end up in your compost.

Shopping this way also requires some creativity and flexibility with meal planning. You'll have a difficult time if you walk into a grocery store with a recipe in hand and expect to be able to find all the ingredients from your list, because what you need or want may not always be available. Most people who already eat seasonally and locally will be used to preparing meals based on what's available to them. But if you do get stumped, this nifty online tool lets you enter the ingredients you have, and it will generate recipes for you!

So the next time you're out shopping and thinking you can't buy another bag of local parsnips, check your sale rack and treat yourself to a second harvest.

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