Eat this! Fixing our food waste problem

pumpkins, food waste, landfill

It’s been a busy week. Our local Walmart sold pumpkins for one dollar each. I bought 12. Now what? As I researched recipes online, I came across a haunting statistic: About 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins are thrown away every year.


Discarded pumpkins are a fraction of what ends up in landfills. If you piled all the food scraps generated by our nation’s households onto a football field, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says it would create a mountain more than five miles high.

Dad always said, “Don’t complain without offering a solution.”

Guess who’s coming to dinner?

My solution source came from a refreshingly brilliant website called SaveTheFood. It’s loaded with bright graphics and un-snooty advice. For example, they feature a Guest-imator (clever!) which is a dinner party calculator that estimates how much food you need to keep your guests full and happy.

Good timing. Thanksgiving is just around the corner.

Humbling thoughts

40 percent of the food in America is wasted
Each of us tosses out 300 pounds of food each year
20 percent of the food we buy never gets eaten
90 percent of us throw food away too soon

SaveTheFood was created by the Ad Council (Natural Resources Defense Council). I enjoy no, LOVE this site. For one thing, I was not hit over the head with guilt, rather I found good news on the home page:

“There’s something we can do. The better news: it’s easy. And we’ve already got everything we need – it’s in the refrigerator. Let’s do this.”

You know what really touched my heart? This video: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Strawberry.

Honestly, it’s a must-see:

We can fix this!

Stay with me here. If you examine the entire food supply (hard to do, I know) about 30 percent of all food ends up as waste. We’re all responsible, though U.S. retailers are especially on the hot seat because:

+ Retailers generate 8 million tons of food waste a year, and
+ 23 percent of landfill waste comes from containers and packaging

The good news is that zero-wastes stores are popping up in the U.S. following Europe’s example. And municipalities are embracing food waste issues and public outreach, guidelines, and ordinances.

Easy things you can do

Thankfully, SaveTheFood offers many no-nonsense changes you can launch in your household. For example, here’s how to keep food better, longer:

HERBS: Keep herbs (like cut flowers) with their stems in a glass of water
AVOCADOS: Place ripe avocados in the fridge, they’ll last longer
FLOUR: Keep flour fresher almost twice as long by freezing it
CHEESE: Wrap leftover cheese loosely in wax paper, not plastic
BROWN SUGAR: Us a slice of bread to soften up hardened brown sugar

From the garden to the kitchen and back

Here are some tips I came up with for taking food from preparation in the kitchen to ultimately in the garden, starting with one of my favorites recreational pastimes:


I’ve been composting here in Alaska for over 30 years. (If I can do it, so can you!) Food scraps are one of the best sources of organic materials for home composting, not all food waste is created equal.

DO compost:

All your vegetable and fruit wastes, (including rinds and cores) even if they are moldy, bruised and ugly

  • Old bread, stale cookies, crackers, pizza crust
  • Grains (cooked or uncooked): rice, oatmeal, quinoa, etc.
  • Coffee grounds, tea bags, coffee filters, and eggshells
  • Fruit or vegetable trimmings
  • Outdated herbs and spices

What to do with compostable food scraps until you’re ready to add them to your compost pile?

  • Chop, blend, or shred scraps.
  • Store in a covered container or the fridge.
  • Feed them to chickens.
  • Or, try worm composting. It’s great fun. Really.

DON’T compost:

Avoid putting meats and oily products in the compost pile. It attracts rodents and larger animals (think bears in Alaska!) and they take too long to decompose. Here is a no-no list:

  • Meat or meat waste, such as bones, fat, gristle, skin, etc.
  • Fish waste (use common sense in “bear country”)
  • Dairy products (a little is alright) but normally avoid cheese, butter, cottage cheese, yogurt, sour cream, etc.
  • Vegetable oils, salad dressings, and mayonnaise
  • No compost bin? Dig a hole!

Another way to use food scraps in the garden is by “post” or “trench” composting. It’s easy. Simply dig a hole or trench about 12 inches deep. Toss in the scraps and then cover with soil. Worms, bacteria, and fungi will get right to work on the new food source, reducing it to the point where plants can utilize the nutrients. NOTE: If bears, porcupines, rodents, neighborhood dogs discover your efforts… well, use common sense.

Make broth, not waste

Have you ever wondered how those sauces and soups at your favorite restaurant are prepared?

The best soup stocks are made from vegetable scraps such as peelings, skins, stalks, and so on. Simply simmer a small pan of veggie trimmings for an hour or so on the stove, wood stove or in a slow cooker for a few hours. Place in containers, label them and store in your fridge or freezer.

And what if you’re facing a ton of green tomatoes? At the end of my post Through my camera: Fall colors in Kodiak, I share my favorite recipe for Green Tomato Salsa. (As for my 12, one-dollar pumpkins, I roasted, pureed and froze the bounty for making desserts, soups, puddings, muffins, bread, and dips).

The children are hungry

Food waste is a dilemma. The hardest thing to swallow though is that 40 million Americans live with food insecurity. They don’t know where the next meal comes from.

  • Shop smart.
  • Make compost.
  • Tolerate a blemished apple.
  • Make veggie broth.
  • Get creative with leftovers.
  • Refresh wilted lettuce in cold water.
  • Grow food for–and donate food to–food banks.
  • Love your neighbor as yourself.

Thank you for visiting,

P.S. How do you save food or re-use food? Drop me a note below…

You might also enjoy:

My insights about healthy cooking and healthy recipes and also organic gardening tips, cool climate gardening.

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Marion Owen is a “Jill of all trades,” with 30 years of experience as a teacher and columnist. She’s on a mission to help busy people enhance their daily lives, condensing topics such as photography, cooking, and organic gardening into bite-size pieces.  Get her free 4-page “In Good Light: Photo Tips for Busy People” and feel newly recharged when taking pictures.


  • Janet Gage
    September 19, 2021 at 7:06 AM

    Pumpkin jam is easy to make and is delicious.

  • doug mccallum
    March 3, 2021 at 5:59 AM

    thanks for your passion and love for nature, garden, family. a great read about your mom, who , in her own way was a great person. i live in a zone 5 garden region(upstate ny- st lawrence river) and have a huge garden which i will attempt to feed 5 families from. i have become an aggressive composter over the years. i did posthole composting for many years and the soil got a magnificent transformation. in my new, environment, i am a bin composter and will expand from 3 bins to 4 this year. charles dowding and david “the good” have helped to reaffirm my style of aggressive composting. i add meat , dairy, oily food, wood ash and biochar, urine, lots of shredded paper products, lawn clippings and yardwaste,some horse manure and bedding etc. keeping it enclosed keeps most critters out and turning the pile regularly keeps things active. i also put all meat bones in my woodstove
    which gives you bone char. it can be used in the pile or as needed in the soil.
    as in life, composting is personal / to each their own. thanks for the inspiration and i bid you well.
    doug mccallum

    • marionowen
      March 5, 2021 at 1:27 PM

      Doug, I am SO inspired by your enthusiasm and passion to help others — 5 families! Charles is a huge inspiration, I can see why you enjoy his style and helpful information. All my best to you, too. Blessings, Marion

  • Helen R
    November 13, 2018 at 1:05 PM

    Good article! And with thanksgiving coming up, be sure to boil the turkey bones, skin, and all. That makes the best broth! Re composting fish waste, I always pull spawned out salmon from our stream, put some in each compost bin, and bury some in my gardens. Hasn’t attracted bears yet. So any time of year when we eat fish, I put the scraps in the compost.

    • marionowen
      November 13, 2018 at 5:07 PM

      Hi Helen– Thanks for your comment… and I loved your description of spawned-out salmon. One time I told my friends in Florida the concept of burying dead fish in our garden. They had a tough time understanding, to say the least. I have a friend who lives a subsistence lifestyle on the west side of Kodiak Island. Giant garden. She buries “herring popsicles” in the soil. Frozen herring. Her raspberry plants are 10-feet tall!


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