Q: How can I stop tossing out so much food?
A: You don't have to be a regular at an all-you-can-eat buffet to know North Americans are wasteful creatures. It's not just uneaten pineapple shrimp getting the boot at the end of the day; 40 per cent of all the food in this country goes uneaten.
Time to get a grip. How? For one, keep in mind that best-before dates are really just friendly suggestions from manufacturers designed to get you to throw food out and buy more of their stuff. We don't have to toss out perishables like milk or yogurt if they still smell and taste fresh. Trust your senses.
Case in point: for a Mexican street corn recipe, I recently used up perfectly fine organic sour cream that happened to be four weeks beyond its best before date. Of course, I didn't mention this to my germaphobe pal who ate at our place that night.
Shop like a European. Pick up smaller quantities of food every couple of days instead of buying a week's worth at once. It helps prevent overbuying. And try writing down meal plans to keep track of exactly what you'll need.
Be honest with yourself. If you hate leftovers and/or your leftovers have a habit of turning into science experiments before you get a chance to eat them, cook less. Or freeze 'em. Check out my Ecoholic column on how to freeze all kinds of produce to eat 100-mile all year round.
But what do you do with stale, wilted or spoiling foods once they're on the verge? Some are no-brainers. Bruised bananas are great in shakes or pancakes. Wilted veggie scraps make the best soups and stock. Oven-dried stale bread can become croutons and bread crumbs.
Every culture has tons of waste-minimizing lessons, really. Take a page from the French and stop being so prudish about mould. See blue stuff creeping around your cheese? No sweat, just cut an inch off around it and keep eating. In Italy, stale bread is dolled up in all kinds of different ways. If it's rock hard (but mould-free), you can soften it with a little milk, add cheese, tomatoes and basil and bake it in the oven.
If it's stale but still chewable, try making a panzanella salad: you basically toss good stale bread (no sliced crap, please) with the juice of fresh tomatoes, red wine vinegar, roasted red peppers, anchovies, capers and basil. Drool.
My Indian girlfriend taught me how to use up older cream by making super-easy paneer or ricotta. Heat it on the stovetop, and once it starts boiling, squeeze in lots of lemon juice until it curdles. Strain it through cheesecloth and voilà: cheap and tasty DIY cheese.
Got leftover rice? Wander into Chinatown and you'll find stir-fries made with day-old jasmine rice. To refresh any old rice, just crack an egg into it. Leftover pasta? Crack a few eggs into it and turn it into a frittata (with some cheese, olive oil, maybe mushrooms, onions).
My mom will tell ya any old fruit that's no longer tantalizing, like apples, pears, berries and plums, can be made into a yummy compote or fruit stew. Simmer it with some sugar and cinnamon, a little water or juice and use it on ice cream or toast, sort of like a fresh jam.
What about bits you'd never think to eat? All sorts of peels can be rubbed on your face to different effect. Rub banana peels on warts, poison ivy or psoriasis; avocado skins on dry skin as a nourishing mask; orange peels on acne or on teeth as a whitener.
Veggie peels can multi-task, too. Sure, most peelings can be stockpiled in your freezer for, well, stock, but what about trash like corn husks? Wrap leftovers with 'em, learn how to make yummy husk-wrapped tamales or get crafty with DIY corn husk bows, flowers and dolls.
If you've got a juicer, organic watermelon rinds make a delicious and super-nutritious juice loaded with blood-vessel-relaxing citrulline. And don't toss those onion skins - they're loaded with anti-inflammatory quercetin, so make sure you throw them into that crock pot or stockpot.
Craft-heads can also have some serious all-natural fun dyeing fabrics with onion skins.
However, I don't recommend playing around with questionable meat or fish. If it's about to expire, you can freeze it for later use. Last night's leftover fish makes divine fish stew. Celebrating with lobster or crab? Fry up the shells after cooking, add water and wine and make a stock you can freeze and use later.
For more ripe ideas on avoiding food waste, check out sites like lovefoodhatewaste.com - this one is UK-based, so don't be shocked by recipes for haggis risotto.