Let’s be honest. We’ve all found forgotten carrots at the back of our refrigerator’s crisper drawer. You know … the drawer where good intentions go to die. “I’ll make a gorgeous carrot soufflé on Sunday,” or “These will go great in a sheet pan recipe I found on Pinterest!” Then, weeks later, you find them so shriveled and bendable you could tie them into knots. If those carrots could speak, they’d say, “If you carrot all, you’ll remember me next time. And you’ll use me from root-to-stem.” I hear you, carrots … I hear you loud and clear.

According to the most recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data, 42.8 million tons of food waste ended up in landfills in 2018. We can reduce that number at a collective scale by making a few mindful changes at home.

  • Don’t ask yourself what you’d like for dinner. Ask what you have for dinner: Using what you already have not only saves the food, it also saves you money at the grocery store. Take inventory of your food stores and create a weekly menu around those items.
  • Give your leftovers some love: When restaurants give you a “Texas-sized” portion, take half home to eat later.
  • Compost your scraps: Tomato or cucumber seeds, apple cores, carrot peels—if you compost, all of it can go back into the soil for a flourishing vegetable garden.
  • Make sure your veggies are visible: Don’t forget about those carrots that get pushed to the back of your crisper. Keep your fresh produce where you can see it and remember to use it.
  • Make a plan for larger food club purchases: Buying in bulk is a great way to save money, but sometimes it leads to food waste. Try freezing half the container of grapes for smoothies. Consider making three different recipes using that enormous bag of broccoli florets.
  • And my favorite way to reduce food waste is through conscious eating: root-to-stem or head-to-tail cooking.

To cook and eat consciously is to use the entire plant or animal. If you’ve ever broken down a large head of cauliflower or broccoli, chances are you’ve thrown away the stalks and leaves, am I right? Many times before, I’ve tossed it in the trash without a second thought. But after learning more about conscious eating, I’ve
found ways to honor the entire vegetable or animal. Food waste not, want not!

  • Skip peeling your veggies: Peels are edible and packed with fiber. Go ahead and eat the skin on your baked potato. Or toss the peels into a pot for a delicious stock.
  • Animal protein parts, skin, and bones: Two words … bone broth!
  • Cauliflower and broccoli stalks: Chop into small cubes and toss in soups, salads or stir-fries. They also make an excellent snack for dipping in hummus.
  • Watermelon rinds: ‘Tis the season for yummy watermelon! But did you know you can eat its rind too? Toss a little watermelon flesh, rind, lime juice and mint into a high-speed blender for a tasty agua fresca. Or for an after 5 p.m. treat, give it a splash of vodka (just sayin’).
  • Leaves and greens:
  1. Beet greens, Swiss chard, and kale stems can taste bitter. To sweeten, lightly sauté in a bit of oil and add to stir-fries or a wilted salad.
  2. Massage kale with avocado and season with salt and pepper for a gorgeous side salad. Or toss the leaves with olive oil and bake for kale chips.
  3. Throw celery leaves into homemade salsa or soups. Fall is just around the corner!
  4. Use carrot tops for a batch of pesto. Add into a processor with arugula, basil, or spinach, a few garlic cloves, and olive oil. Pasta tossed with fresh pesto is the best thing ever!
  5. If you’re a marinara fan, chop Italian parsley and its stems and add to bubbling tomato goodness for spaghetti night.
  • Bread from juice: If you like to juice, use the pulp from beets, carrots and apples to make pulp bread.
  • Donate canned goods to your local food bank.
  • Additional tips: If you don’t have a garden for composting, toss cucumber seeds into a morning smoothie. And the next time you eat an apple, eat the core. It’s all edible except the seeds and stem.

So, give root-to-stem cooking a try. You just might find a new favorite dish amidst your creations. And as for the five cans of pumpkin purée in the back of your pantry from last year’s Thanksgiving, show it some love. You’ve got this! 

Author

  • Ruthie owns Black Fig Food catering and is proprietor of the online cooking platform Elevated Plant Plate. Learn more at elevatedplantplate.com and blackfigfood.com.