This article first appeared on Mind Body Green.
Nobody likes throwing food in the trash—it’s a waste of money and resources that ladders up into a global issue: We never eat roughly one-third of all the food we produce.
While composting your scraps is a step in the right direction, avoiding them altogether is even better. Wen-Jay Ying, the founder of Local Roots, is on a mission to help New Yorkers do just that. “I see a lot of people saying that eating food that looks funny is a way to fight food waste. I think it’s important to evolve that conversation since most food waste happens in the kitchen, whether it’s at home or in a restaurant,” she tells mbg.
Ying’s company connects people with fresh produce, meats, and cheeses that have been grown within 250 miles of the city, distributing it at pickup locations around NYC. The CSA program also adds a layer of education by offering sustainable cooking tips and opportunities to build community.
Ying was given the Entrepreneur of the Year award by Mayor Bloomberg when she started the company in 2011 at age 26, and since then she’s noticed how the rise of social media has fundamentally changed our relationship to food. On one hand, platforms like Instagram have given us unparalleled access to farmers and the people making our food. On the other, they’ve placed a lot of importance on how our meals look.
According to Ying, helping the planet with your next meal means adopting little routines in the kitchen to help your food go further, no matter aesthetics. Here, she shares some of her favorite ways to make the most of every part of your market haul this time of year.
The stems of swiss chard and kale are edible, and she likes to either braise them or get a little more creative and pickle them. You can either reuse the brine from a pickle jar or make your own using a combination of apple cider vinegar, water, salt, sugar, and whatever else you feel like throwing in. The result is delicious on salads and sandwiches.
Pickling is a way to extend the shelf life of summer fruits too, like watermelon rinds. And Ying’s already looking forward to fall when she can pickle apples in her new favorite brine: “I’ll put in cinnamon, curry powder, and ginger in there for spice—the result is super delicious on tacos!”
Herbs have a tendency to go bad before you get to use them all up, especially when you’re buying larger bundles. Pro tip: Think of leafy herbs like cilantro and parsley like you would a bouquet of flowers. Put them in a small glass filled about halfway with water—the water should only touch the stems, not the base of the the leaves—and put a plastic bag over them (make sure to reuse this week after week!). If you see the water turning a funky color, swap it out. And voila! Your herbs will stay fresh for a week or so—longer if you bought them fresh from a local market.
As for woody herbs like rosemary and thyme, Ying like to use them as double-duty decor. “I’ll tie the sprigs with yarn and hang them upside down in my kitchen. This will dry them out—so I always have dried herbs to use!”
In order to use up other produce before it spoils, you might want to make your fridge a little more organized. Bundling things like leafy leafy greens, fruits, and root veggies together can help you remember exactly what you have and what needs to be used up first.
Tops and skins
Yes, you can eat the tops of veggies like carrots, radish, and turnips. You can either have them raw (Ying notes that turnips in particular have a nice spicy flavor) or work them into a pesto. Same goes for the skin of carrots and beets, and they’re typically packed with nutrients.
You’re probably already adding egg shells to your compost—but there are plenty of creative ways to harness their benefits. Ying says that adding a few (clean!) crushed shells to coffee grounds can help balance out the bitterness of your brew. Or, you can can grind them into a calcium-rich supplement. More on how to do that safely here.
“I really think making vegetable broth is the easiest thing to do with food scraps,” she says. “Pretty much any food scrap you have—besides something like hot peppers—can be frozen in a container and added to a pot of boiling water for 30 minutes for an awesome veggie broth.”