There's a whole blog out there devoted to the issue of wasted food: wastedfood.com.
This is not a trivial issue. Some estimates are that 40% or more of the food Americans buy is thrown out--more than $100 billion worth of food per year. Let's think about that for a moment. Consider, too, the packaging that goes into all that food we didn't actually need to buy, and the carbon footprint of the industrial food system that produced that unnecessary food. Worst of all, think about the 37 million or so people in this country who are "food insecure," who could surely use some of what the rest of us so cavalierly toss out.
I've always been unhappy about throwing food away. It just seems so wrong ... When I don't get around to canning or freezing my garden produce, the guilt is terrible--even if, as my daughter points out, it's not a total waste because it goes into the compost for next year's garden. Better, I suppose, than going to a landfill. I feel just as bad wasting whatever I've bought at the supermarket.
The freezer is indispensable in cutting down on waste. Yesterday I put two pint boxes of black bean soup in the freezer; we'd eaten leftovers for lunch a couple of times, but after two or three days one starts to worry about spoilage, so into the freezer it went. Putting leftovers in the freezer means that on any given day, I have a guaranteed no-fuss, just defrost-and-warm lunch.
When we have a large cut of meat, such as a roast, I plan for the leftovers even before I cook the roast. Roast beef sandwiches, beef-and-pasta salad, barbecued beef sandwiches, beef pot pie, roast beef hash: these are all possibilities, and rarely do I have to throw out meat.
With whole chickens, it's the same: I plan to use the leftovers for another meal (chicken divan, pot pie, etc.), and I make stock out of the carcass. Often I freeze the carcass until I have the time and inclination to make broth out of it.
I use whole grains, so I take care to store them in the freezer if I know I won't use them up before they become rancid. Whole cornmeal, steel-cut oats, whole-wheat flour and the like must be used within a few months, and I surely don't want to throw anything away, so once again, the freezer is the answer. I store nuts and seeds in the freezer as well.
One of the keys to not wasting food is to not buy too much food. Seems self-evident, and yet people do buy too much. Perhaps the large bag of salad, with its lower per-unit cost, is just too good to pass up, or there's a buy-one-get-one-free sale, but for whatever reason, Americans often buy more food than they can eat.
There's also another phenomenon at work, one I saw illustrated on the British show You Are What You Eat; people buy fruits and vegetables because they know they're "supposed" to, but then the produce doesn't get eaten. On the episode I saw, the woman of the house bought fruit galore, but the entire family, including her, passed it up in favor of cookies, donuts, chips, etc.
Late last fall I found myself with several lemons that were drying out and looking rather ill, so I juiced them all and made lemonade. I find myself doing more of this sort of thing as my horror of food waste grows. Apples, peaches, and pears can be sliced and the slices dried in the food dehydrator; berries can be frozen; overripe bananas can be frozen in their skins to be used in baked goods; citrus fruits can be juiced, and so on.
Anyway, pop over to wastedfood.com for some thought and discussion on this topic. It might serve as a reminder and an inspiration to all of us who have worried about food waste. Oh, and check out this article in the Austin-American Statesman, too.