6 Ways My Family Follows the Spirit of France’s New Law

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Bethany Nauert)

I can’t stand waste. I am my mother’s daughter. She kept scraps of vegetables in a container in the freezer until she had enough for soup, and sent leftovers in our school lunches, even though it wasn’t cool. (But it was delicious, which taught me that not worrying about what was cool often resulted in … a pretty great lunch.) She cut the brown bits off fruit and made it into salad rather than throw it away because we kids thought it was rotten. She composted and recycled before it was cool to do so in our suburban neighborhood.

My mother would have loved the new legislation in France targeting food waste. She would have also said, “Well, that’s just common sense.”

Though the food waste provision made headlines, the law also includes goals of lowering gas emissions and reducing the country’s dependence on nuclear power. It bans plastic bags, giving shoppers and stores until January 1, 2016 to comply, and it will compel private homeowners to make energy-saving home improvements if they consume more than a certain amount of energy.

It legislates the heck out of bad environmental practices. My mother would say, “That’s common sense. People should do it already. Why do they have to make a law?” She was a Republican, with a strong social conscience.

6 Ways We Reduce Food Waste at Home

In my family, we’re conscious of waste, possibly because I nag everyone about it constantly. I’ve always hated knowing that restaurants and grocery stores threw out perfectly good food at the end of the day, sometimes pouring bleach over the waste to prevent it from being eaten by those who wouldn’t or couldn’t pay. Freegans, beware: Some grocery stores would rather poison perfectly good food than give it away. We rarely toss food, and I never turn down free food. Here’s how we reduce waste.

  • We repurpose leftovers. They’re made into a new meal, or eaten for lunch the next day. If there are a ton of leftovers, we freeze them, because who doesn’t love having a few meals stashed for a busy day? Also, as my mother knew, almost anything can be turned into soup.
  • We share. If we really can’t eat all the leftovers, I’ll offer some to a guest, especially if they seemed to particularly enjoy it. Before our own kids started eating us out of house and home, we used to take party leftovers to the local homeless shelter.
  • We take home everything. Any and all leftovers from a restaurant, including the ounce of steak and quarter-cup of cooked collards from the other night, are coming home in a doggy bag. I made them into phở (a version of it, at least) for lunch the next day. The base of the soup was stock I made myself, using a chicken carcass a friend was going to toss. I asked for a zippered bag, and put that thing in the freezer until I was ready to make stock.
  • We compost. And we do it the easy way.
  • We let the kids serve themselves. Though they can go back for seconds, thirds, and fourths, I want them to learn to put only what they want to eat that moment on their plate.
  • Nothing goes unused. The aforementioned chicken remains, raw vegetable scraps, and bits of fresh herbs get tossed in a bag in the freezer, saved for when I need to make stock. A friend recently dropped off five Vidalia onions — the South is a weird place, y’all — which I caramelized and have been using in various dishes ever since. The last spoonful of mayo will be combined with a rogue scrap of cheese to make enough pimiento cheese for one delicious sandwich. Bring me your overabundance of tomatoes, the venison that won’t fit in your freezer, the grouper you just don’t like. It’ll get eaten, I promise.

Today is the first day the kids are out of school. For lunch we’ll be having peanut butter chicken and rice. The chicken came from my aunt Wendi. She was going to toss it, so I asked if I could take it home. (My family’s pretty relaxed, so — believe it or not — this wasn’t the least bit awkward.) The peanut sauce? Originally served with chicken skewers at a party we hosted. I froze the excess sauce. (I’ve found that caterers almost always make too much sauce.) The rice is cooked and frozen, too, left over from a meal a few weeks ago. I may add half a tomato to the sauce.

As a cook, I love how using all the food available to us expands what I do in the kitchen. It makes me more creative, as I find ways to use the food at hand, even when it’s unfamiliar. Also? I derive a great deal of satisfaction from seeing a light load of garbage at the end of the week. I grin at a near-empty curbside can. Normal? Maybe not, but it sure is easy to make me happy.

How do you make the best use of food at home? I’d love to hear how you use what’s in the fridge to make something new.