Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Soggy Lettuce Conundrum (and How to Stop It)

Sometimes I lose produce before I can use it.

Well, it actually happens less often since I stuck this nifty sticky whiteboard to my fridge. Now I write down all our produce and perishable leftovers so I remember what's going on in my kitchen (both in and out of the fridge).

I took this photo back in January (probably after a CSA box 
or a trip to the Farmer's Market since there's so much on there).

I have always hated losing produce. It's such a waste, not only of the food itself, but of everything it took to grow that food.

I recently watched this TED talk by Leyla Acaroglu called Paper beats plastic? How to rethink environmental folklore. I think all 18 minutes are worthwhile. I've watched it twice.

Toward the beginning of the talk, Acaroglu points out that biodegradability is "a material property, not a definition of environmental benefit." That got me slowly nodding my head. She went on:
When something natural [like food waste or paper] ends up in the natural environment, it degrades normally. Its little carbon molecules that it's stored up as it was growing are naturally released back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. But this is a net situation. Most natural things don't actually end up in nature. Most of the waste that we produce ends up in landfill. Landfill is a different environment. In landfill, those same carbon molecules degrade in a different way because a landfill is anaerobic. It's got no oxygen. It's tightly compacted and hot. Those same molecules, they become methane, and methane is a 25x more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. So our old lettuces and products that we have thrown out that are made out of biodegradable materials, if they end up in landfill, contribute to climate change.
Whoa, what? When I throw the soggy lettuce in the trash, it's destiny is methane? When I toss a piece of paper in the trash, it's destiny is probably methane?? Why did this never occur to me?

Realizing this actually made me glad about two things.

First, that we compost, which means that this:

turns into this:

We use it to enrich the soil and feed the earthworms. :)

However, when the compost tumbler is a-tumbling, I don't add anything to it for several weeks (which is why having two would be awesome). So, second, when I can't add my biodegradables to the composter, I typically toss them behind these lovely bushes in the front yard. 

Here's a close-up:

When I started doing this over a year ago, I figured that even though I couldn't use the compost how I'd like, I was still feeding the earth. Something beautiful will grow there some day.

I'm happy to have another way to care for the earth in my arsenal, and a good reason for doing so!

If composting isn't an option for you at the moment, is there somewhere else you can toss those kitchen scraps so they don't wind up in a landfill? If you don't have a yard, you could always add your scraps to broth or soups to get more life out of them. I bought an eBook bundle once that included one called Don't Compost It, Cook It. I haven't read it thoroughly, but the the author has some good ideas for getting as much mileage as possible out of your food.

How do you avoid losing produce? How do you make use of any peelings and trimmings?


  1. We compost even though we really don't garden much... yet. I just got to the point that throwing a banana peel, or even an eggshell, in the garbage made me swell with guilt. Watching Leyla's TED talk helped me realize why! I think it was really a spiritual intuition saying, why are you throwing good (rotten) food away?? The good earth can use this stuff.

    I also thought her comments about paper v. plastic were interesting. I had assumed paper was better, but she makes a good point about weight! Obviously reusable is best --- which we've started doing very consistently. But be careful with reusable: make sure to wash them.

    1. I never wash my bags. Thanks for the tip!

  2. Wow, FanTastic post! I love composting!! We also recently got some backyard chickens to help with all our left overs. For all of the things they won't eat, though, we have a fenced bin in our backyard. We inherited it from the previous owners of our house. I'd love a composter I can turn, though! Question: why don't you add to it all the time? Can't you get a continuous ferment that way? Or would it be detrimental to the already broken down waste?

    Re paper v. plastic, I have about ten cloth bags, but I somehow never remember to bring them when I go grocery shopping. I've tried so many ideas to help me remember them, none has worked. Any ideas?

  3. It wouldn't be detrimental, it's just that I like to use the compost in my garden when it's completely finished. So unless I want to separate it out (no thanks), I can't add to it constantly. What I *really* want is a worm bin like this: With one of those, I could add to it constantly. I know people who do something similar right in the ground, tilling in organic material for the worms to break down (they just don't get buckets of worm juice to use however they want).

    Chickens are the best for a home garden. They can eat your scraps and in turn provide the most amazing fertilizer for your compost. One day!!

    Try putting your reusable bags in the car as soon as you empty them (or right now, since they're not there!). :)

    1. Yes, I have tried that one before. It worked once. I forget to put them back in my car, though. I don't know about you guys, but grocery days are crazy at my house ha ha ha maybe I'll start leaving them on my counter after emptying them. I hate thing just hanging out on my counter

  4. rabbits eat your veggie scraps, too. but not lettuce.

  5. By the way, this is Aunt Cynthia, not Caleb . . .

  6. We had rabbits when I was growing up! They make excellent composters. And they are so lovable.

  7. I really would like to start composting. I've seen that TED Talk too, and even though she didn't mention this angle of it, it did make me consider the effect of everything I throw in the trash even though I do generally eat the lettuce before it gets soggy! There are almost always bits of produce I end up tossing. I'm trying to be more aware of what I can eat of the produce I buy that I never considered using before recent years, like celery leaves and bulbs, radish leaves, and pineapple cores (after a tip from you ladies). I just saw I smoothie recipe that includes avocado pits. Why not? We have funny ideas about what should and shouldn't be eaten, and some of them are cultural. When I lived in Italy I discovered that Italians believe the skins to pears and peaches are indigestible. They eat them when they are unripe (which they probably consider ripe), for dessert after a meal. Everyone gets a little plate and a paring knife and peals the fruit before eating it.