Sunday, February 24, 2008

Trim the Fat: Kitchen Edition

Three weeks into the Trim the Fat Challenge and I am still nipping and tucking. Last week, I gave my shower some plastic-removal surgery and this week I'm focusing on the kitchen.

Food Waste
Did you know that, of the food that makes it into U.S. homes, 50 million tons of it is thrown out? Holy cow! (pun intended). Not wanting to be one of those statistics, I've spent the month clearing out the frozen depths of our garage freezer (oh!! that's why our electricity usage is high!) and the pantry. Yes, the freezer is stocked full of locally grown winter squash that I carted home from the farmers' market, split open, baked, and pureed - slow food. There are also vestiges of our former food-selves: last year's frozen Trader Joe's stir fry, frozen organic peas and such. While not so tasty after all this time or compared to a meal cooked from fresh, seasonal ingredients, we're eating it up anyway. Better than tossing it, I thought, even while craving a local winter salad.

The Better Meal
Currently, 40% of the American food budget goes to food eaten outside the home. A year ago, that was easily our budget for take out and restaurant fare. We cut back over the last year - mostly because I couldn't stomach a garbage can full of Styrofoam containers and plastic clamshells. We now eat out once or twice a week - a burrito or breakfast at a locally owned restaurant. This week, however, we skipped all meals out.

You see, there is a certain wholesomeness, comfort and joy in home cooked food. Homemade pasta sauce, carefully simmered and stocked away in September, carries with it summer's memories, flavor found only from tomatoes ripe to bursting and identifiable ingredients. Home baked bread - even when it doesn't rise properly - provides nourishment rather than just something to put in one's mouth. Celebrating family night with home cooked pizza teaches the kids to cook, gathers the troops for the all important oft-ignored family dinner and tastes ten times better than anything delivered in a box while the pizza boy's car idles in the driveway.

It is this taste of home and of family, rather than guilt over garbage or promises to trim the fat, that kept us out of restaurants this week. It's hard to turn your back on a pumpkin and caramelized onion tart, fresh cooked corn tortillas or even pizza with half the cheese picked off.

Plastic Surgery
Just as I ousted plastic from my shower, so too am I kicking it out of my kitchen. I am reusing plastic containers from food previously purchased but am trying to keep most new plastic out. I now make our own bread (from bulk ingredients), butter (from heavy cream in a reusable bottle) and buy our locally baked bagels packed in my own reusable ziplock bag. I bought a large wheel of local cheese wrapped in wax rather than shrink wrap and am following these simple instructions to keep it from going bad.

In addition, the "environmentally friendly sponge" has been an issue for me. A while back, I bought a six (or was it a twelve) pack of compressed cellulose sponges from Trader Joe's. I've used those up and need to decide how to restock. Compressed sponges have the advantage of being packed in less packaging (1 plastic wrap for 6 or 12 sponges), taking up less space when shipped, being recyclable or biodegradable and made from recycled materials. Beth at Fake Plastic Fish posted this link for similar sponges available without the plastic packaging. I also found these sponges but, ultimately, I think I'll check the local Trader Joe's first.

The End Result
One of my stated goals for the Trim the Fat challenge was to lean up. How is that going after three weeks of indulging in home cooked meals and pantry leftovers? It would be better if I hadn't lost the battle with some homemade rice pudding! But, still, it's not too bad. I'm down almost two pounds. I wish I could say that I've gone all Chile on you and pledged to give up dessert during the week or some such thing. The truth, though, is that the "better meal" is just better for you and your waistline. Let's just hope the scale keeps moving in the same direction.


Chile said...

Wow, Green Bean, you are just charging ahead full-speed. Way to go! I've been thinking about our garage fridge/freezer, too. I think with some careful menu planning, I could probably clean it out and unplug it. We keep it on the lightest settings but it still draws energy. We also keep the freezer section full with ice in old soymilk containers so it will run more efficiently.

Why not switch to dishrags in the kitchen and avoid the whole sponge issue? From what I've read, they are less likely to harbor bacteria than sponges.

Jennifer said...

Yesterday I bought my monthly 6 loaves of bread in PAPER bags instead of plastic. :) I had saved up the bags from last month, and transfered the bread to them after I got home... (I freeze the loaves, as they are preservative free). They couldn't put the new bread in my plastic bags, but at least the paper is compostable, and there is much less of it. Your bread and bagel solutions reminded me of this! (an aside... the bakery told me they were moving to rice bags soon.. I'll still reuse these old ones, though)

Good job on using up the old freezer veggies. I just can't do that... there is a bag of a pasta/veggie dish in the freezer that has been there for 4 years (and one move) now that I can't stomach anymore, but I can't bear to throw away. I wonder if the dogs would eat it? ( no, that's a silly question; the dogs will eat ANYTHING). I wonder if it would cause any bad reaction in the dogs? (that's a more valid question).

You are doing a great job on this challenge! I love reading about what you are doing and how you are figuring things out.

Green Bean said...

Thank you gals!

Chile: I have thought about switching to a dishrag or something instead of a sponge. Obviously I use dish towels instead of paper towels, etc. but for some reason I keep thinking I need a sponge. I need to let that thought simmer. :)

Jennifer: I'll go for paper over plastic any day the of the week! Nice one on trasferring everything over. Interesting about the rice bags.

Dogs really will eat everything, won't they. I don't know, though. 4 years is a mighty long time. You might just have to bite the bullet and toss it - knowing that you won't make that mistake again. :)

Chile said...

Well, MY dog won't eat anything. Unlike my last two dogs, she turns her nose up at vegetables.

The only food given to my last dog that made her sick was rice that had been in the fridge too long. I felt really bad when it made her throw up a couple of times. :(

Green Bean said...

Uggg! Chile, that sounds awful. Jennifer, I'm thinking you should just consider your frozen veggies a lost cause rather than risk what happened to Chile's pooch.

CindyW said...

Thanks to my husband's extreme anal planning, by the time Saturday comes along, our fridge is virtually empty. Then we restock from farmer's market on Sundays. We used to buy a lot of frozen veggies (it's just so easy), but stopped doing that a year ago. There is just so many varieties of veggies at our local farmer's market all year around. I was a bit embarrassed to buy the frozen kind.

With regard to trimming plastic packaging, I learned to make yogurt from a friend this weekend!!! It literally took me 10 minutes to make it. I am SO excited about that. No more yogurt containers to recycle.

Hazel Nut said...

My daughter and I eat takeout just once a week. For me it's just so much cheaper to cook than to eat out (I have 50% Scots blood in me) and you don't really know what you're getting with takeout. You could be ingesting all kinds of chemicals, colourings, preservatives, and who needs it?
Re frozen veggies: no taste! And they're mushy! Yuck!
My daugher has always preferred her veggies raw, I'm not sure why...maybe it's the I rarely cook a vegetable except in stir frys, for which I use fresh.
Good discussion!

Green Bean said...

Cindy and Hazel Nut: I'm so with you gals on the frozen veggies. What's at the farmers' market is better tasting, better for you and not encased in plastic. I still have a year old bag of frozen organic spinach in my freezer that I'll have to eat but I have to admit that I really don't want to. Bleh!

HN: Also, the more I learn about GMO stuff, the more I realize that to avoid it, you really need to cook at home. Eating out will almost always include genetically modified foods.

N. & J. said...

My fiance and I are also trying to eat the stockpiles of food we have amassed in our pantry and in doing so we only spent $20 in groceries for a week.

We also make our own bread and butter and buy just about everything that we can from the bulk bins in order to reduce the amount of packaging we purchase and it also saves money.

Caroline said...

I buy some things in bulk (wheat berries for homemade bread, oatmeal, brown rice, sugar) and I make most of our food at home. We have pizza delivered once a month or so, and only eat out a few times a year.

Leftovers, if not finished in a timely fashion, go to the chickens. They get everything from pasta to the ends of the bread, tomatoes that have gone soft, cucumber and potato peels, etc. No need for compost with them around! I love my chickens, and the fresh eggs.

Note - we don't eat red meat, and chicken scraps go to the barn cats.

Fake Plastic Fish said...

Hi there. Just wondering how you are doing with storing your cheese according to the instructions you linked to. I finally had a chance to read them. I'd love to hear more about your experience storing cheese this way. And do you use paper towels, as they suggest, or a cloth? I'd rather not use up paper towels. Feel free to email me directly if you want. beth [at] fakeplasticfish [dot] com.


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