Our Zero-Waste Thanksgiving (November Recap)

In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, I started seeing a lot of posts on food waste. Some of the facts were just plain staggering: 204 million pounds of turkey wasted, $293 million in food tossed out on just this one day alone. We had already decided to skip the turkey and host a meal that we hoped would be consumed in its entirety on Thanksgiving Day – no leftovers – but reading these ridiculous stats gave us another idea.

Regardless of whether or not we clean our plates, the sad fact remains – the holidays are just one (albeit extreme) example of food waste. Every single day, grocery stores toss out perfectly good food because it looks bad, because one apple in the bag is rotten, because it’s close to expiration, or believe it or not, because they no longer have shelf space for that particular item! Living next to a grocery store, we see this all the time. If you’ve followed our blog for very long, you know that we are unashamed of the fact that we often rescue food from the dumpster. It’s our tiny contribution to saving the planet and feeding our neighbors in need.

So for Thanksgiving we decided to make our meal from rescued food. This included both dumpster finds and anything on the last chance/quick sale rack of our local grocer. In the week leading up to Thanksgiving, we visited the two grocery stores next door almost every day. From the dumpster,  we managed to score a 10# bag of Russet potatoes, 2 dozen eggs, a pound of carrots, 7 yellow onions, 2 red onions, a 3# bag of Granny Smith apples, a bag of brown ‘n serve rolls, an orange, and a 16 oz. bag of fresh cranberries. From the quick sale rack, we purchased an organic Spring Mix salad ($2.99) and a bag of flour ($1). We were able to rescue almost every item on our menu, with the exception of a chicken, fresh tomatoes, and a cucumber.

With these items, we created a delicious dinner consisting of 2 chicken pot pies, a garden salad, a cranberry-apple compote, deviled eggs, rolls, and an apple pie. (And breakfast the next day – fresh cranberry muffins!).

The dinner was a success and almost every bite was eaten that day (the exception was the salad, which we munched on for the next two days, and the deviled eggs, which became egg salad sandwiches). We feel really good about what we were able to rescue and the folks we served, they were more flabbergasted by the amount of food we found than they were about where it was found. In fact, I’ve even had 2 requests for another “Dumpster Apple Pie” LOL.

Thanksgiving may have been the highlight of our month, but along with our frugal food adventures, we were also able to make progress on our other goals.

  • We added 47.4 miles to our walking total. We stand at 845.2 miles for the year.
  • We enjoyed 14 completely meatless days (or 71 vegetarian meals) this month.
  • We earned $107.80 (cash) and $85.63 in Amazon gift cards through side hustles.
  • We decluttered 7 more items, mostly winter coats, which we donated to charity.

I have most of the month of December off from work and lots of ideas of how I want to spend that time. Reading, relaxing, and trying some new recipes (probably using rescued foods) tops the list. Spending time with loved ones and taking in some of the sights and sounds of the holidays comes in a close second. And of course, there’s one final round of decluttering left to do and a lot of walking, if we want to reach our goals for the year!

How will you spend your December?

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A Few Thoughts on Food

This morning I’m sitting at my desk eating a rescued Panera cheese bagel and a banana while I work. I haven’t bought any groceries since Angie left for Texas on May 4th. Come to think of it, I haven’t bought groceries all month! It wasn’t my intention to skip the grocery store during the 2 weeks I’m home alone (with Caesar) but a few days in, I saw the possibility and at that point, the zero-grocery challenge was born. What can I say, I love a good challenge (and I needed something to keep my mind off Angie being gone).

I didn’t expect this to be a very challenging challenge. I knew from the start that my mom had every intention of having me over for dinner at least every other night. I also knew we had food at home. It’s not always what I want to eat but nonetheless its food. And I knew our CSA was set to start yesterday. So I felt pretty confident that I would be fed…and fed well.

There were 2 things I didn’t anticipate though – first, a major storm flooded the farm that supplies our CSA share so they had to delay the start of the season for another week. Second, my mom went back to work. The latter brought with it a delightful consequence – the ability to rescue food.

20160506_114037On the first day Mom returned to work, she came home with a Ziploc bag containing 3 apples, an orange, and a bunch of grapes. They were all in good shape. One of her coworkers had been cleaning out the breakroom fridge and tossed them out. She also tossed out a dozen Panera bagels. My mom brought the fruit home, telling her coworker, “Melody and Angie will kill me if I let you throw these things away!” Good job, Mom! (She’s still learning.) Mom was too late to get the bagels (though had I been there, I would most definitely have pulled the box back out of the trash).

My mom works for a large corporation. They like to buy breakfasts and lunches for their employees, especially during meetings (and they have a lot of meetings!). Sadly though, not much of the food is ever eaten. Last summer when Mom was working more often and we were camping full time, she brought home whole untouched pizzas, half eaten deli trays, full loaves of bread, and more than once, an entire fruit tray from Chick-fil-A.

Yesterday was Nurse Appreciation Day so they threw a party – with more Panera bagels. This time, Mom brought the leftovers home. She also brought a still-warm Chick-Fil-A sandwich (which I ate with a salad and baked potato for dinner). Yes, I know it’s technically fast food but that’s a battle for a different day. Today, I’ll celebrate it as a victory in reducing food waste.

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My lunch yesterday: PB&J (using a jelly packet my mom brought home from work)

We think a lot about food waste and food security around here. You might say, food waste is our passion project and it has been for a very long time. I don’t want to disparage my mom’s employer. In their field of expertise (nursing), they are superb, but when it comes to good food stewardship, they have much to learn. They are just one branch office of one company in one city and it bugs me to know that they are not the exception. We are a country of wasteful consumers.

So what can we do? The simplest answer is to buy less. If everyone bought only what they could actually eat, a lot of our food waste would end. Challenging myself to stay out of the grocery store for 2 weeks is a small sacrifice. At most, I’ll forego milk and bananas. At best, I’ll clean out the cabinet and fridge, readying them for restocking of good wholesome foods in quantities that make sense for our small family. And who knows, along the way I might rescue a bagel or two!


Do you subscribe to Amazon Prime? (If not, you can get a 30-day FREE trial here). If you do, check out Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story. It’s an eye-opening documentary about a couple who spend 6 months living only on wasted food. I was blown away by the volume of food they found!

If you want to learn more about gleaning and food rescue, I encourage you to visit the Society of St Andrew. They’ve gleaned nearly 30 million servings of fresh produce this year to feed the hungry.

If you’re interested in learning ways to reduce food waste at home, consider taking the Food Steward’s Pledge.

If you happen to work for a company like my mom’s that likes to treat their employees to meals, encourage them to treat less often or give gift cards instead.