My Battle with Food Waste

At least three times per week my husband and I have the same conversation.

“Why did you forget to put the dinner away last night?”

“Why did YOU forget to put the dinner away last night?”

“Well, now it’s all ruined because we forgot to refrigerate it. Fantastic.”

There are no restaurants in our little, remote village, so we have to cook dinner every night. We also have to provide lunch for ourselves every day, and while we can eat school lunch during the week (and often do because our cook is amazing) we still eat at home on many days. All of those spoiled leftovers that we leave sitting on the counter/stove could serve as lunches, but instead they go in the trash.

I love to cook, so constantly cooking is no big deal for me. However, I absolutely HATE to do dishes. My husband also HATES to do dishes. There is no chore that is more hated in the Middleton household, especially because our home has no dishwasher. I believe that my avoidance of doing the dishes has led to me just totally blacking out the clean-up process after dinner, and apparently it has a similar effect on my husband. Both of us practicing this avoidance behavior usually ends in us totally forgetting to clean-up after meals, and then when we go into the kitchen much later our lovely and delicious leftovers are spoiled.

Add into this equation the fact that food is difficult to get and expensive, and you’ve got the recipe for two people who desperately need to fix their food-waster ways. I mean, a gallon of milk in our village is $20 and a frozen pizza is $17. The majority of our food we have to ship in during our twice a year (August and January) shopping trips to Anchorage, but even that gets expensive because we have to pay per pound to ship it out on an airplane. We simply can’t afford to keep wasting.

This year I really, really want to work on being more mindful of my wastefulness and work to fix it. I want to get better at storing food, finding alternate uses for food (more recipes, more ways to use unwanted parts of foods), keeping my fridge and freezer organized, shopping smarter and more realistically, and I want to figure out if there is any possible way to do some composting out here in the middle of nowhere. I’m sure this is going to be quite the undertaking, but it is also an absolute necessity.


26 Responses to My Battle with Food Waste

  1. Same problem here with letting food sit out for too long. I fixed it by immediately getting out the Rubbermaid (or whatever) and putting the food away after we filled out plates. Bonus – no going back for seconds. Good luck!

  2. SO my ex (when we didn’t live together) would leave things on the stove overnight, and still eat them (and survive).

    Living together, he’d often ‘nibble’ (ie second meal) after I went to sleep around 9.30pm, so I made it clear he was in charge of ‘packaging up’ leftovers, and he did. He was so many wrong things, but we got the cooking/package up things sorted FOR SURE.

    He also had a STRONG stomach (or willing to ride the porcelain bus at least!)

  3. My husband grew up in a third world country (Vietnam) so no refrigerator. He leaves food out all the time. Reheats it before eating and is fine. That said, I’ve had food poisoning and it’s definitely not good

    • There is, unfortunately, no medical care for hundreds of miles (only accessible by airplane and dependent on weather), so we are extra careful about anything that might make us sick or hurt. That being said, I know lots of people who eat unrefrigerated leftovers all the time and are totally fine! I’m just not willing to risk it with our living/medical care situation.

  4. If you can get some earthworms (do they send those through the mail?) you could try vermicomposting. I think red wrigglers are the ones generally used. You just keep them in an indoor bin and throw in your scraps.

  5. Maybe some cookware that could go right into the frig…like Correlle has some that you can do that. Or fix the large amount and divide right away before you set down to eat. I, too, hate doing dishes and didn’t have dishes for many, many years and I sympathize with you. Perhaps you could have a schedule where certain days doing dishes and putting away leftovers were a certain person’s job…so some days you would have the day off from that and then your husband would have the one’s that were your turn to put away and clean up. I am anxious to follow your year….I feel you will have so many things that you do that will make all of us down south really appreciate how easy we have it!

    • Duh….didn’t proofread…I had dishes…..lots of dirty ones through the years….just no dishwasher! Half-Himers for sure!!!

    • Thanks, Linda! I think I am going to try dividing it up as soon as I’m done cooking it. I’m still not 100% sure though, so I may look into the cookware you’re talking about. As for dishes – I must agree, they are the WORST! I really like the schedule idea though. I’ll have to put that idea to my husband and see if we can agree on something there. Good one!

      • That’s what I do – portion some into containers as I’m serving up. Then by the time we’ve eaten its cooled enough to go into fridge/freezer. This way also stops us having seconds we don’t need! I’m never sure who is around for dinner, so I still cook for four and have lots of leftovers. Every now and again we have random leftover night -whatever’s in the freezer.

  6. I’ve definitely gotten lax since coming back to the States. I lived in Russia for five years where food was SO EXPENSIVE so I learned to treasure it… Luckily my Russian husband is here with me to keep me in check when I start getting wasteful. I agree – it’s definitely a struggle!

  7. If it doesn’t have meat in it, you can eat it even if left out overnight. We sometimes have the same problem and I have never gotten sick. I wouldn’t do it with meat products, though. As to your dishes problem, I highly recommend a countertop dishwasher. We got one a year ago after a decade plus without a dishwasher, and it is the best money I ever spent. Shipping will be outrageous, but in my opinion it would still be worth it.

    • I’m pretty wary about eating anything left out overnight, just because we have no access to medical care, so I’m hoping to just stop leaving stuff out. I do really like the idea of a countertop dishwasher! Although, I think it may cost a few hundred dollars to ship one out (on top of the regular price), so it’s something I’d have to weigh the pros/cons of since we only live in our house 9 months/year. I will definitely be looking into it though!

  8. Yes, I am so here for this topic!!! While we’re diligent food packers, food waste is still probably the single biggest issue we have in our house. Our problem is a black hole fridge – fresh delightful things go in, but they never come out.

  9. Definitely recommend packing the left overs as you’re serving up and putting them straight into the fridge. You could divide them into lunch sized portions or dinner sized portions too, then you’re ready to go the next day. Filling the sink with hot water when you dish up too could help with the cleaning up – put the most difficult dishes/pots etc in there to soak then they’re easy to wash up when you get to them.

  10. So long as you put the lid on the pan while it is still hot it will be sterile with no bad bugs to spoil the food. Even meat. I frequently make a massive pot of stew, soup or chilli and leave it on the stove top for up to a week. So long as you bring it back up to boiling every time you take the lid off, it’s fine.

    Or put it in tubs when you dish up the food as someone else said.

  11. $20 for a gallon of milk?!? Wow, how can anyone afford that? Are salaries higher to accommodate for the high food prices? I guess I never realized how much I don’t know about Alaska 🙂

    • Yeah, the prices are astronomical is the bush. In places like Anchorage, Juneau, and Fairbanks the prices aren’t as extreme. Many families supplement through hunting and gathering. Salaries for teachers are quite good, but not all professions are paid more.

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