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"We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie." David Mamet

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Science Experiment That Ate My Garbage

I used to be embarrassed by the science experiments in the back of my fridge. Now, thanks to my 8th grade son, I can present hard data about them.
      For his Science Exit Project, Jack compared the rotting rate of organic and nonorganic apples and carrots. He predicted that the nonorganic would last longer because they're pickled in more pesticides. Jack did lots of research, uncovering several unsettling facts along the way.
      What he found was that 186 million pounds of food is wasted in this country each day (USDA). In fact, half of the food produced in America ends up in landfills, where it proceeds to emit methane, a greenhouse gas 20-plus times more potent than carbon dioxide. While all of this food is being scrapped and our environment is heating up, one out of six people in America struggles with hunger.
      These discoveries floored me. What could I do? I can compost and donate to food banks
       I can stop creating so much garbage.
      My awareness of the leftover-food chain changed the way I look at the food rotting in my fridge -- and the way I cook. The fear and (self) loathing I used to feel while mining the frosty shelves has been replaced by gamemanship: I've become a garbage opportunist with the selfish aim of advancing my moral standing. The on-the-way-out items become collage material for new and different meals: what can I do with that (X) moldering away in the vegetable bin?
      If I'm feeling lazy, I can go to lovefoodhatewaste.comLike an uber home ec teacher, this quirky British site has compiled an exhaustive menu of recipes from professional chefs and normal folk alike. I've learned that there’s a second life for almost every food. From their widget “What food needs using up?” I learned what to do with “One sad brown banana” (put it in a curry!) and how to store half an avocado (keep the pit in it.) And there's much more.
      Whether my own or someone else's, making a Rescue Recipe makes me feel a little virtuous - even if the methods are dubious. Does anyone really need to know that dinner was made out of salvaged garbage? The answer depends on who you're trying to impress. 

April Rescue Recipe: Vicky's Chicken Broth
This Rescue Recipe came from my friend Vicky.  Not too long ago when Vicky wasn't feeling well, I went to her house with a my mother's great chicken soup. But Vicky had already defrosted some of her own. It was incredibly robust and deeply savory. And I discovered that it's a perfect Rescue Recipe because it calls for chicken and whatever is wasting away in your fridge. The other day I made it, and here's what I added:
Scoliotic Kale spines, diced
Curling spinach
Limp carrots, quartered
Softening potato, diced
Nub of ginger, halved
Stringy celery, diced
Handful of kosher salt
Handful of whole peppercorns
Toss everything into a large stock pot and fill with water. Bring to a boil then, with the lid slightly ajar, simmer. After a few hours, break up the chicken with a wooden spoon and continue simmering for at least 6 hours - preferably overnight. Strain and press as much of the solid food that you can through a sieve, so that you have a thick-ish broth. Then serve, and if you have extra (which you will), freeze for a rainy day.
      By the way: Jack's experiment proved that organic and nonorganic produce rotted at pretty much the same rate. Organic is more expensive, but at least it lasts as long as the pesticide-treated produce. To say nothing of the many other environmental benefits to organic and, if possible, local. So in the end, I'm sticking with my healthy, flavorful, and sustainable choice: organic.