Jars of Shame: An Uglier Side to Food Waste

Food shopping is one of our greatest indulgences. Whether browsing the wares of the shops and stalls at Atwater Market in Montreal or the produce on display in groceries and markets in Japan, Jean-Francois and I enjoy the hunt for new tastes and flavours.

To be honest, we used to horde ingredients. Jean-Francois would chant “In-Greeed-i-ants!” like a possessed madman in a bad horror movie as we shopped. Along the way we  amassed large numbers of jars, bottles, plastic bags of spices, sauces, and other flavours that delighted our tastebuds and encouraged our multicultural gluttony.

But, unlike hoards of books and magazines and trinkets, our collection required regular purging before the refrigerator burst. And we poor hoarders agonized over the forgotten meals, lost experiences as each jar was held up and we asked “What have we used this for recently?” and then poured the insides down the drain.

True, we are better now. We make most of our sauces from scratch, but we occasionally lapse back into bad habits. I took these photos today to show you what I mean.

JarsofSin

37 colourful jars of tasty, wasteful flavours

Just the top two shelves of our refrigerator have 37 jars of our most essential ingredients. They include: maple syrup (used weekly), birch syrup (used three times), rice vinegar (daily), ponzu (weekly), cider vinegar (weekly), two types of soy  sauce (often), 3 tomato based ketchups (often), 3 mustards, two jars of horseradish (??), two salad dressings that we loved in Japan, soup base for emergencies, and a host of chili sauces and chutneys.

The top two shelves, laden with ingredients.

The top two shelves, laden with ingredients.

A chutney, one horseradish, and a few of the smaller jars have exceeded their best before dates, but the remaining bottles are still youngish. Still this is food waste, and it is a part of the food waste problem that we rarely think about. And considering the distance travelled by these jars to please our pallets–I am ashamed of us.

This week, it is time for us to rethink our need for ingredients. Just because we miss eating Okonomiyaki with its special sauce, doesn’t mean we need to run to Little Tokyo and buy a plastic bottle of it (as we did a few weeks ago). I googled. I learnt. We can make some with soy sauce, ketchup and Worcestershire sauce. We can even get fancy with sugar, dashi, and cornstarch. All of which we have in the pantry.

Starting today we are going to renew our efforts to reduce our refrigerator’s burden. We will not buy another sauce, mustard, ketchup or jarred treat until we have:

  1. Googled to make sure we cannot make it ourselves.
  2. Found enough creative food ideas to use the sauce up in less than two months.
  3. Asked each other if we really need to feed the nostalgia itch.

And, because temptation can be tricky, we will never shop for new ingredients alone.

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Stone soup dahl

About a month ago, I wrote an entry on what I call stone soup. The recipe in that entry is simple:

…whenever I peel or chop vegetables or meats, I toss any bits that would usually be destined for the compost or garbage bin into a colander, wash them, then put them in a container in the freezer.  When I want to make stock, I throw the stone-like frozen scraps into water and boil.

As one friend noted, though, “Ive started my stone soup freezer bag! Once you start, it grows quickly!” Very quickly – and the challenge is to find varied ways to use up all that stock (we end up making about 8 cups of it every weekend). Last week, I did something based on this great dahl recipe from  Wolfgang Puck, and it’s definitely a keeper.

For the version I made, I used brown lentils, rather than orange ones – and stone soup stock rather than chicken stock. The stock that week was made with a healthy amount of beet peelings, and was dark colored with earthy tones, which worked perfectly in this recipe. I served the dahl with some homemade dosa (a rice and lentil batter pancake), kale salad, a spicy coleslaw, and some watermelon rind chutney – a satisfying, warming meal.

One thing to note: unless you’re catering a wedding, I suggest that you make about a quarter of the recipe at the link. That makes about 4 normal sized servings.

Watermelon rind is food too

Watermelon rind has it tough. It lives next to sweet, pink, refreshing fruit that can be eaten as is, or easily become the base of colorful drinks, salsas, granitas and soups. How many of us even acknowledge rind as food? How many of us stop eating when we reach the unsexy, white, flavorless stuff? How many rinds end their lives needlessly in landfill?

Too many to contemplate.

But watermelon rind is food too, and there’s no reason to throw it away, or even compost anything but the hard, dark green skin (less than a millimeter thick). Although the rind is not as flavorful as the rest of the fruit, it is slightly sweet and has a firm, crisp texture that holds up well to cooking. It can be incorporated into the aforementioned drinks, salsas, granitas and soups — but also does well on it’s own in both sweet and savory concoctions.

Watermelon rind chutney

Take that, sexy, pink, attention-grabbing watermelon flesh

I’ve been in the mood for Indian food lately, so when I found myself with 10 cups of watermelon rind earlier this week (harvested from a 7 pound watermelon), I decided to use it to make chutney. The recipe is below, and the result is a spicy, sweet, sour, aromatic condiment that makes a perfect accompaniment to Indian food, meat dishes or strong cheeses.

Watermelon Rind Chutney

Ingredients

Cubed watermelon rind

Cubed watermelon rind

  • 10 cups watermelon rind, diced in ¾ inch cubes with dark green skin removed
  • 2 cups raisins
  • 2 serrano peppers with seeds, minced
  • ½ cup ginger, skinned and coarsely chopped
  • 1½ Tbsp garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tsp red pepper
  • ¾ tsp cinnamon powder
  • 
½ tsp cardamom
  • ½ tsp ginger powder
  • ¼ tsp powdered cloves
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 cups cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup lime juice
  • 1½ cups sugar

Directions

  • Place watermelon rind, raisins, serrano peppers, ginger, garlic, red pepper, cinnamon powder, cardamom, ginger powder, powdered cloves, salt and half of the vinegar in a large pot.
  • Add enough water to just cover the fruit, and give everything a good stir.
  • Bring the liquid to a boil, then immediately reduce heat to low.
  • Cook on low heat for 1 hour, stirring occasionally, until the rinds take on a translucent quality.
  • Add in the rest of the vinegar, the lime juice and the sugar, and stir until sugar dissolves.
  • Bring the liquid to a gentle boil, and, stirring frequently, continue to boil until the liquid has the consistency of jam.
  • Put the chutney in a sterilized jar.

This chutney will stay fresh for several months in the refrigerator.

Fun facts
Reduction in food waste per batch of chutney 10 cups
… and if every household in the US makes 1 batch Over 9.6 million cubic feet
Volume of the Washington Monument About 1 million cubic feet