Say goodbye to throwing out so much food. We’re using the ENTIRE carrot, greens included, while finding practical ways to reduce food waste in our own kitchens.
Perhaps you’ve been at a meal and heaped your plate with more than you could chew. Maybe you’ve been told it’s bad for your eyes to be bigger than your stomach. Don’t forget everyone’s least favorite admonishment, to think of the starving children in Africa. Not to downplay the harsh reality of starvation, regardless where it is, but I question whether making a child feel guilty for causing someone else to go hungry just because they took one helping too many is really the best decision.
Putting doubts of this approach aside, I do think it’s important to talk about food waste. There are so many components to understand if we want to help reduce how much we throw out.
Sidebar: there’s nothing wrong with leftovers. They make your life easier when the going gets tough. Embrace them. Show them the love they deserve.
I became aware of this problem in a more concrete manner (read: beyond childhood associations with causing starvation halfway around the world) when I signed up for Hungry Harvest. They’ve made a few appearances on the blog before, and inspired this Sweet Potato Eggplant Wedge Salad. (If you’re feeling iffy about it, then don’t– my roommates still bring it up sometimes as “that recipe they want to make”.) Fun fact– the CEO, Evan Lutz, is a University of Maryland grad and started Hungry Harvest in his senior year. GO TERPS!
Following conversations with the Hungry Harvest crew, I gathered that there is way more to the average grocery store’s stock than meets the eye. Little did I, or many others, know that produce deliveries are carefully examined and either accepted or rejected based on an aesthetic ideal. Tomatoes that aren’t bright enough, zucchinis that are too big or too small, twisted carrots, lightly scarred grapefruits, all turned away. And I thought I was picky, sorting through pyramids of apples to find the ones without a single bruise or soft spot.
Were they absent the day we learned not to judge a book by its cover?
Face the Facts
Looking at the numbers, it’s truly mind-boggling how far we’ve let our food system fall.
According to an article by CNBC, the US is guilty of wasting three times as much as we did just 50 years ago. Half a century? That sounds like forever, but in reality that’s just a tiny blip in the fabric of time. Only about ten years ago, in 2008, grocery stores threw out approximately 43 billion pounds of food. Mass quantities of food sent to landfills, sitting there rotting day by day, is a huge contributor to methane production and pollution. It comes from a combination of wanting to have beautiful piles of fresh fruits and vegetables, along with overstocking for fear of losing business to empty shelf syndrome.
Thought you got off the hook, huh? Unfortunately, as consumers, we’re partners in this food waste crime, propagating the epidemic. By refusing to buy ugly produce we leave grocers with no choice but to stock only the pretty ones. Now, food is just another means to cater to our vanity. The Atlantic wrote about the cultural influence, namely our “national obsession with the aesthetic quality of food”. They quote the EPA’s calculation that, on average, an American family of four throws out $1,600 worth of produce each year.
Waste Not, Want Not
Come on, I know I can’t be the only one looking more than a little shamefaced right about now. Hours pass me by as I fiddle with the placement of a tomato slice or a chocolate chip, striving for the “perfect placement shot”. It’s absolutely true when people say that presentation plays a big part in taste, but there’s a strong case to be made for dialing it back. You may not be photographing your meals that way, but that doesn’t matter. Because we make up a solid chunk of this vicious cycle, we have plenty of influence to exercise. It’s simple!
- Shop cautiously. There’s nothing more frustrating than anticipating the moment you bite into those fresh raspberries you bought last week, only to open the fridge and find them covered with moldy fuzz. Oftentimes we buy more than we need without even realizing it. Spend a week paying closer attention to the amount you really consume, and then tailor your grocery shopping list accordingly.
- Join a movement. Organizations like Hungry Harvest are cropping up around the country, making it easy to find one in your area. If there’s none nearby already then put in a request, so that the higher-ups know there’s interest. CSAs and farmers’ markets are more great ways to support local, sustainable agriculture and make a stand against the waste occurring in traditional grocery stores. You can find information about farmers’ markets across the US here and learn more about CSAs here.
- Support stores that care. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find that some grocery stores are hopping on the bandwagon. Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods both have food donation programs in place, sending food items unfit for sale yet consumable to local food banks. Contact the manager of your favorite grocery store to find out about their food waste reduction program (or lack thereof) and make it known that this is a cause you and others in your community care about.
- No scraps left behind. Rather than mindlessly scraping all the ends of your vegetables into the trash can, put them to good use! There are myriad ways to repurpose the ends that no one wants, the ones that are often full of important nutrients. You can easily make homemade vegetable stock and bone broth, saving some money at the same time. Or, do what I did, and turn them into a completely delicious and unique creation.
It’s bold. Brave. Green. It’s CARROT GREENS PESTO.
Now, this does require you to invest in carrots that actually have their leafy green parts still attached. You get more bang for your buck, though, since now you can make double the amount of dishes with a single ingredient! Two for the price of one! Making healthy choices more affordable!
Can you tell I’m excited? I’m very excited.
Here’s a quick rundown for you, from the Organic Facts site. A (vitamin A-packed) carrot a day keeps the eye doctor away. The beta-carotene also helps prevent macular degeneration, an eye disease that commonly occurs among the elderly. Potassium relaxes blood vessel tension during periods of stress, in turn lowering blood pressure levels. A compound called coumarin, which the dictionary defines as a “vanilla-scented compound found in many plants,” also protects against hypertension. The high antioxidant and vitamin levels make carrots great immunity boosters, while the fiber supports our digestive system.
Can you believe that isn’t even a comprehensive list of the benefits of carrots? They’re basically the perfect food to have on hand. Portability makes them even more appealing.
What about the leaves? Give us the greens!
This is the first time I’ve ever tasted carrot greens. On their own they’re pretty bitter, with a sweet-ish aftertaste. You really should try one, though, if you want the best experience. For the less curious among us (no judgements, I’m in that group when I get too hungry), this pesto combines flavors that cut the bitterness of the carrot leaves. After just a few minutes of processing you have a jar of this herby dip, which pairs great with the rest of the carrot. Or with eggs. Or on toast. Anything really. Savory oatmeal, maybe? I’ll revisit that idea later.
As you continue cooking and eating, please be mindful. Explore creative uses for scraps. Eat your leftovers with a smile. Buy carrots, and use the whole damn thing.
How do you reduce food waste? Tell me how and I’ll add it to the list of suggestions! If you try this recipe, I’d love your feedback. Leave a comment below, save it on Pinterest, or tag #lensesandlentils on Instagram to share!
- 1 bunch carrots, with greens*
- 1 tbsp olive or avocado oil
- sea salt and black pepper
- ½ cup carrot greens
- 1 cup kale
- 1 tsp minced garlic
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp pine nuts
- ¾ tsp turmeric
- ½ tsp dijon mustard
- ¼ tsp chili powder
- FOR THE CARROTS: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Wash the carrots, then remove the leaves as close to the root as possible. Lay the carrots out in a single layer on a baking sheet. Coat evenly with the tablespoon of oil, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes, rotating halfway through, or until soft and the peel looks wrinkly.* Broil for 1-2 minutes.
- FOR THE PESTO: While the carrots are in the oven, place the remaining ingredients into a food processor/blender. Process until fully combined and smooth, scraping down the sides as necessary. This should take up to 5 minutes, depending on the power of your food processor/blender. Adjust seasonings to taste, using salt and pepper as desired.
- Store in an airtight container in the fridge for 1 week.