McCabe: Students should be mindful of food waste.

Picture this: A large plate piled high with well-seasoned fried rice, crispy egg rolls, saucy sesame chicken and crab rangoons galore is placed in front of you. Your mouth waters at the tanilizing scent. As you hungrily dig in, your friends are presented with similar plates of their own. Soon, you feel stuffed but content. 

You place the tip on the table as your group leaves, right next to the half-finished plates of now cold rice and bits of egg rolls. While you thought about bringing these leftovers home, your craving for Chinese cuisine has been satisfied, and you can’t picture yourself eating another bite. Besides, it’s just some rice and egg rolls. 

Not that big of a deal.

Sound familiar? While this seemingly small food left for the dumpster seems fine, it’s not. 

According to GreenBlue, an environmental nonprofit, a half pound of food is wasted for every meal in a restaurant. The organization said to also consider the water, fertilizers, pesticides and fuel needed to produce, package and transport that food. 

Then, add in the potent greenhouse gas methane emissions generated by all that food waste sent to landfills, and food waste becomes a much bigger problem.

However, there are many ways that leftover food — otherwise thrown away — can be reused. 

Emily Worden, senior at Augustana, is a conscientious cook, and she experiments in the kitchen to create less waste.

“I make my own bone broth from leftover vegetable scraps and meat bones and freeze it,” Worden said. “Some of the fat floats to the top, so I use that to cook instead of oil sometimes. I do a little smorgasbord with my broth with ramen and meat that comes off the bones, risotto with leftover rice, soups with leftover veggies and other things.”

With the help of Bon Appétite, an American food magazine, Worden has learned to candy fruit peels to use up the whole fruit. Worden also likes to use up her leftovers in chilis and soups, casseroles, stir-fries, smoothies, salads and sandwiches. 

Vedant Thakkar, a freshman at Augie, is working toward creating a more sustainable commons. Thakkar said Augustana cannot compost most food waste because it contains meat and dairy. These products are difficult to compost due to bad odors and the potential attraction of pests. However, if enough funds are gathered from the administration, an industrial composter could be in the campus’s future. 

For now, Thakkar believes individual composting could be a solution.

“It would be a good idea to have compost bins with earthworms and a little bit of soil on floors in which people can throw in their paper waste and food waste like peels,” Thakkar said. “However, one has to make sure that there is absolutely no meat, dairy, plastic or other non-compostable materials in it.”

The health of the environment is affected daily when we leave leftover rice at the restaurant table, throw away half a sandwich or toss the mashed potatoes and green beans we were too full to eat at Thanksgiving dinner. 

However, we have the power to create a more sustainable world at the tips of our fingertips. Or rather, the edges of our plates.

According to The Washington Post, if food waste is halved in the next 30 years, the world will avoid emitting at least 10 gigatons of carbon dioxide. That’s equivalent to taking 2,570 coal-fired power plants offline. 

By avoiding deforestation for additional farmland, these measures will also prevent more than 70 gigatons of additional emissions.

Leftover food tips from faculty members:

  • Compost old lettuce or tomatoes on a hamburger, add some ketchup or mayo to make it more appealing. 
  • Repurpose meat such as ham, chicken or turkey by cutting it up and throwing it in a salad, noodles or soup. 
  • If leftovers look unappealing, consider why they gross you out and change that part of the food, such as using new vegetables or bread.
  • Freeze food that you don’t want to eat right now. Freeze bones from meat and make a broth or stock for soup.
  • Plan your meals around the foods you will be consistently cooking for that week. Beef for chili one night could easily turn into enchiladas or tacos the next night with a different side dish.
  • Add liquid, such as milk, to dried out pasta or toss it in different sauces.

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