We’re so excited to bring more voices into Closed-Loop Cooking! There’s always room at the table here and we’re honored to launch our guest post series with nutritionist, Rachel Wood of REAL(est) Health. Rachel gets real with us about how eating whole foods helps us all reduce food waste.
Hey all! My name is Rachel Wood, I’m a holistic nutrition student and the founder of REAL(est) Health. I offer holistic nutritional counseling, nutrition, and culinary education to the public and am also a yoga teacher! I teach locally in and around Salem, OR (where I live) and love how I’ve been able to blend my love of nutrition with the self-care practices that yoga prescribes. But enough about me, we’re here to talk about FOOD!
So when I counsel my clients, I am always preaching about REAL FOOD. It’s partly the reason for the name of my business, REAL(est) Health. I fully believe that one of the best things we can do for our health is to commit to eating whole, unprocessed, from-the-earth foods. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds. I don’t make a point to tell people what they should or shouldn’t eat. We all have different bodies, different genetic makeup and different needs. But I do know one thing, we could ALL do a better job of eating more plants.
As many of us are starting to become aware of our own environmental impact, one of the ways we can reduce that impact is by consuming plants in their whole form.
Vegans aren’t wrong–their particular way of eating contributes to less carbon emissions, less water waste and less land usage. It’s true. I’m not saying you have to go vegan or even vegetarian. That’s up to the individual. This is really only one slice of the pie when it comes to reducing waste.
Most processed foods come in boxes, plastic bags or styrofoam packaging. The only foods that don’t come in packaging are whole produce and bulk items (if you bring your own bags / containers). And even then a ton of produce items come pre-wrapped (cauliflower) or in some other form of packaging (grapes, berries, cherries, leafy greens, etc). By making a point to purchase things that don’t come pre-wrapped (most produce items), you are not only reducing waste from packaging and resources to make the product, but BONUS: it’s good for us! Now I’m not saying you have to get all extreme and use the packaging on fresh produce as an excuse to eat premade frozen meals. Because really that’s just swapping one type of packaging waste for another. HOWEVER, when you choose to purchase vegetables and fruit in their whole form and then consume it, not only are you doing something good for your health but you are reducing your contribution to the massive amount of waste that is made as a result of creating processed foods.
The ability to vastly improve our health by purchasing packageless food is readily available to many of us, we just have to take advantage of it.
So to pivot slightly, I want to highlight an area where we as consumers can also make a big difference: food waste. Closed-Loop Cooking is founded on the idea that we as everyday people can make big changes when it comes to reducing the amount of food that ends up in the landfill, uncomposted, unutilized to feed a hungry person. I have people tell me all the time that they want to buy fresh produce but every time they do it, they end up throwing some of it away because they didn’t use it in time and it went bad. This unfortunately happens sometimes, but most often it’s due to poor planning and that food waste is a very unrealized cost. If you are a regular reader of Closed-Loop Cooking, the concept of food waste probably isn’t new to you. But do you know why so much food is being uneaten or thrown out? One problem is that some farms literally can’t get enough help to harvest the crops they’ve planted. Or that some farmers can’t find a buyer for their products. So all that food gets tilled back into the ground. Seems criminal right? And we aren’t even to the part where a large amount of food gets tossed or rejected because it doesn’t meet beauty standards. Ever notice how all the fruits and veggies look relatively the same in the grocery store? This is no coincidence. These fruits and veggies were selected because they are “blemish-free”. So all the food that gets rejected ends up in landfills or gets donated. A few companies have popped up across the US to try and divert that food back into the consumers hands. Companies like Imperfect Produce, Perfectly Imperfect Produce, Misfits Market, Food Waste Reduction Alliance, Forgotten Harvest, Full Circle Farms, and so many others, are working to make food waste a thing of the past.
Some of my favorite ways to reduce food waste and even repurpose scraps that were destined for the compost bin are the following:
- Carrot tops, garlic and onion peels, and any other veggie scraps can be utilized to make a stock. (You can try this recipe!) Just toss it all in the pressure cooker with the desired amount of water and some spices and you’re good to go!
- Utilizing citrus zest in a baked good before eating and tossing the peel. And if you didn’t want to use it right away, you could easily save and freeze that lemon or orange zest for use at a later date. (Try it in this delicious parsnip + lemon loaf cake!)
- Wilted spinach or kale? Just chop it up and toss in the freezer for later use in a smoothie or soup.
- Beet greens — no different than chard that you would pay $$$ for at the grocery store, they can be used in the exact same way that you would use any leafy green. (And beet stems can make a tasty spread!)
- Chopping and storing your veggies properly! Celery and carrots notoriously get soft and bendy after a few days in the fridge. The best way to prevent this is to wash, chop and store upright in a glass jar with the lid on. It keeps the veggie sticks hydrated and crisp!
- This is the most obvious one: don’t buy more than you will actually eat. I know this one is tough because we want to be optimistic about eating produce. But be real with yourself. Stop buying bags of avocados, to only eat one or two and throw the others away. Refrain from buying the huge bin of leafy greens to only then toss the last third of it. And this is my last big one: just because something is a good deal when you buy it in bulk (aka: costco), if you don’t end up eating all of it, any money you would have saved is sunk.
I hope these tips are useful in your food waste reduction ventures. And remember that the best foods for us are the ones that don’t have a nutrition facts label!
Check out this awesome, use-it-up veggie bowl recipe from Rachel!
Rachel Wood is a registered yoga teacher, holistic nutrition student and former RN. She established REAL(est) Health LLC in January 2019 with the mission of helping busy individuals, couples and families create lasting, positive health habits that become part of their daily lives, FOR GOOD. She utilizes a mind-body-spirit approach and believes that food is really the best medicine for what ails many of us.