Forty percent of the food produced in the United States is wasted. If all the food produced were consumed, we would eliminate hunger in America. Food waste makes up 50 percent of landfills and releases methane gas that is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide in trapping heat and warming the globe. Eliminating food waste is equivalent to taking 495 million cars off the road. Pretty startling facts, to be sure.
At a recent CIA at Copia screening of “Wasted: The Story of Food Waste,” we learned the impact of our wasteful ways. From letting the less-than-perfectly shaped apple rot on the tree, to overbuying at the grocery store, to increased plate sizes leading to increased portion sizes, to meaningless use-by dates, food waste has been aptly termed “the dumbest problem we have.” Dumb because it is so fixable.
The Napa Farmers Market helps combat waste by distributing extra produce at the end of each market day. Our farmers donate items that did not sell, so that our volunteers can deliver it to the Napa Food Bank, Rainbow House, NEWS Domestic Violence and Abuse Services or the South Napa Shelter. This past year, more than 7,500 pounds of produce were donated to these organizations. Our shoppers also donate cash and extra food to the cause each week.
The food industry and big agriculture also have a huge role to play in fixing this problem, but as individuals, we can take steps, too. First, shop more frequently (and not when you are hungry) to reduce the amount of food that spoils, forgotten, in your refrigerator. Second, honor the whole product and use as much as possible. The bones from your roast chicken make great broth; extra bread or rice or soup can be frozen and used another day; fruit and vegetable peelings can be used for broth or soups or tea.
Third, use your senses (sight, smell and taste) to decide whether to keep or toss a product. (Obviously, you shouldn’t taste suspect fish or meat.) The use-by, best-by and sell-by dates are established by manufacturers and often have more to do with stock turnover than spoilage.
Lastly, compost truly unsalvageable food scraps in your composting bin. According to Napa Recycling and Waste Services, only 50 percent of Napa households are currently putting their food scraps in the brown bin.
The bonus of reducing food waste in our personal lives is that it saves money and encourages creativity. Repurposing leftovers into an even more delicious meal is something I learned from my partner. When Deirdre first moved in, I noticed my refrigerator was filling up with minute amounts of things she’d saved from our meals: a tablespoon of sautéed veggies, a thumbnail of ginger, a dab of yogurt. She would put these bits to work, spicing up a snack, adding texture to soup, or transforming a bowl of salad greens. I’ve since learned to love leftovers and all the potential they hold.
Deirdre is a self-proclaimed French peasant. Avoiding food waste and figuring out how to make something wilted into something delicious are in her blood.
One of her favorite stories is how she survived as a poor grad student by buying beets with their greens – two vegetables for the price of one. The stems and leaves were just as delicious as the roots and doubled the amount of veggies for the price.
Beets are not the only two-for-one vegetable. Turnips, kohlrabi, radishes and carrots all have tops that can be eaten, too. While it is now hip to serve carrot-top chimichurri or radish pesto, simply braising the greens you have on hand from the market makes a tasty and highly nutritious side dish. Top it with an egg and you have a meal. At the Napa Farmers Market, you will find many farmers that sell root vegetables with the greens attached.
The following recipe is one of Deirdre’s favorite ways of transforming greens into goodness. Deirdre would want me to assure you that if the greens are a little wilted when you get to them, no worries.
Forgotten Greens with or without Bacon
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For a satisfying vegan version, swap chopped Far West Fungi’s Shiitake Mushroom Jerky for the bacon and use chipotle hot sauce for the smokiness. The recipe is from Deirdre Bourdet.
2 to 3 bunches of discarded green leaves (any combination of radish greens, turnip greens, kohlrabi greens, beet greens or extra chard)
3 tablespoons chopped Contimo bacon or Far West Fungi Shiitake Mushroom Jerky
1 tablespoon olive oil (or 2 tablespoons of omitting the bacon)
1 to 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
2 cups water
Salt and pepper to taste
1 to 2 tablespoons wine vinegar, to taste
2 dashes hot sauce, or more to taste
Cut out any tough ribs or stems from the greens. Finely chop the stems and ribs; roughly slice the leaves into ribbons 1 to 2 inches wide.
Sauté the bacon in the olive oil over medium-low heat until most of the fat has rendered, then stir in the garlic and the greens stems and cook for 1 to 2 minutes more. (For the vegan version, cook the chopped mushroom jerky with the garlic and stems in 2 tablespoons olive oil for 2 to 3 minutes.) Add 2 cups of water, the greens and a pinch of salt. Stir everything together. Simmer, partly covered, until the greens are tender, stirring occasionally, 20 to 45 minutes depending on the type of greens and how forgotten they were. Add vinegar and hot sauce to taste and correct the seasoning.
If you like soupy greens, serve as is. If not, pour off the liquid and enjoy as a superfood broth on its own.
Serves 4 as a side dish, 2 as a main course.
Marilyn O’Connell is president-elect of the Napa Farmers Market.
Donate to the Napa Farmers Market before Dec. 31 on napavalleygiveguide.org and 100 percent of your donation will go to the Market Match program. Market Match helps low-income families purchase nutritious produce at the Napa Farmers Market by doubling their CalFresh (food stamp) dollars.
The Napa Farmers Market takes place in the parking lot of the South Napa Century Center, 195 Gasser Drive. The market is open Saturdays year-round and on Tuesdays, April through September, from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information, to sign up for its newsletter or donate to the market, visit napafarmersmarket.org.