“What’s that?” the kid asked.  She was examining my lunch–apple butter, homemade cheese, and bread I baked that morning wrapped Japanese furoshiki-style in a cloth napkin.

“Bread,” I said.  That was in the days when I still ate bread.

“And that?”

“Apple butter.  I made it.”  Kids stared.  One picked up my jar, tapped, and sniffed.  They’re part of the processed food generation.  They don’t see mason jars, only bags, boxes, and wraps. “It doesn’t grow in the grocery store,”  I said.

They became fascinated by my lunches.  Buzz increased.  What would I bring next?  Soon, I had to double and triple my meals, giving out samples like a grocery store demo.

“Are you a hippie?” one kid asked.

“No.” I said.  “I’m not old enough to be a hippie.”

“Do you go dumpster diving?” asked another.

“No. Hippies and freegans are not the same thing.” I said.  I tried to explain both, but they were too busy poking at my food.

I spent that whole year teaching about food and sustainability–how to cook healthy foods from scratch, how to eat well, and how to source high-quality foods even in the middle of neighborhoods Whole Foods avoids.

Important lessons.  Adults need them too.

“If I had your time,” people say when they see my lunch and lifestyle.

“You do.”  I say.   There’s a secret.

It’s… recycled food.

I hate food waste, yet we do it all the time.  Americans waste 25% or more of the food that goes into our kitchens.  Recycled food means going to the fridge before the veggies give up the ghost then dedicating them to a Michelin-star meal.

Flaccid celery?  That’s soup. Wilty greens? Stir fry.

If you’re not sure if something will taste good, translate it into French and put a fancy garnish on the side.  No one will come to dinner if you say, “Yeah, another day or two and this would’ve given you botulism,” but everyone raves when it’s translated to French.

The real secret to the time savings is to plan once and use the ingredients all week.  Chop all the veggies at the same time, shred the cheese, plan to use them in multiple meals.  Make one giant salad and change it up.  Cut the dying veggies and freeze them for soup, stew, or casserole later on.

Sound suspect?  Think you can avoid my house on Recycled Food Night?

You can’t.

If you’ve ever eaten my food–whether it’s soup, stew, casserole, stir-fry, salad, braise, or frittata,  you’ve eaten recycled food.  You’ve probably complimented me.  Dried fruit or granola?  That was leftover apples thinking about rotting on the counter.  Toss in cinnamon, dehydrate.  Resurrection!

Soup and stew?  Veggies rescued from certain death.  Add some garden herbs, salt, and seasonings–you thought I was a genius.

Casserole?  Same thing, different format.  I used up rice, potatoes and whatever cheese was trying its hardest not to turn green. Delicioso!

Stir fry, curry, scramble…   Any ingredient in the world combined with a handful herbs or spices and I just bought you a food ticket around the world.

This helps me reduce waste and avoids the midweek “What’s for dinner” fridge stare down when I look at the last moldy slice of bread and wonder why the Lord’s not delivering loaves and fishes.

If the object is to waste less, I have to plan well.  Often times, I can’t keep up with the food that’s about to spoil.  With a little creativity I can preserve these things for later when they’ll be the star of their own recycled food show.  Nearly anything can be dried, frozen, or mashed for later.  Black bananas are perfect for smoothies, pancakes or banana bread.  Toss them in a freezer bag and say, “Nice save!”

These are thrifty pioneer arts our grandparents knew and took with them when we started eating food from the freezer aisle.

I know–if I were a pioneer, I’d be dead.   The Wild West didn’t have gluten-free, sugar avoiding vegetarian foodies.  They had prayers of gratitude for whatever crops didn’t croak.

I try to show my gratitude by reducing waste and converting ingredients into meals that’ll make the world jealous.  That way, I give the Lord a break from multiplying loaves and let him concentrate on something I’d really appreciate… helping people truly in need and stopping global warming.

Meanwhile, I eat soup made from scraps and drink a marvelous green smoothie manufactured from last week’s greens, chia seeds, and one dead banana.

I’m not give you my recipe. I don’t want to make you jealous.


Note: I’m thinking of putting out a small collection of healthy recipes.  Sign up for my newsletter and let me know you’re interested.   I’ll send out a few of my world-famous cooking tips so you can eat well on the cheap without anyone suspecting a thing. 


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