Save Money and the Planet: Waste Less Food

I’m excited to share with you Mary King’s first post! Mary and I kept finding each other through shared interest groups and mutual friends. We met for breakfast one morning and now I’m happy to call her my friend! I view the act of sustainability as a personal and social journey to help save and restore the Earth’s most precious resources and help minimize the effects of climate change. Right now, I’m currently working on reducing my family’s food waste. I knew this was one of Mary King’s strengths, so I look forward to learning from this post as much as anyone. Thank you, Mary!

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Save Money and the Planet: Waste Less Food

By Mary King

As a “Nature-Led Life” reader, you know that the choices we humans make affect the natural world around us. One way to be a Nature-Led food consumer is to use what we take.

We’re all feeling a bit of sticker shock at the grocery checkout counter these days. It’s tempting to buy the cheapest brand of everything, forego organics, and eat whatever canned or packaged goods are on sale. It’s better for your family and the planet to explore ways to get more out of your purchases while actually choosing higher quality.

Carrots in a grocery store By Mary King

Keep in mind as you shop that your price per item may be greater than what the store receipt shows. Shipping, and manufacturing shipping vehicles, will expend fossil fuels and generate waste. Pesticide production and use will pollute water, soil, and air; the abatement will be paid in diseases and in taxes. Lack of product and packaging safety regulations will affect community health, increasing taxes and healthcare costs, as will weak labor standards. Subsidies for conventional agriculture are paid with tax dollars. This is called true cost accounting and while these costs may not be visible, you and future generations are paying them.

Not-so-fun fact: it’s estimated that between 30-40% of food produced in the United States is wasted. That includes spoilage and contamination in shipping and processing, food left unharvested due to labor shortages or overproduction, over-ordering and culling blemished food in retail outlets, and consumers throwing out food. The fossil fuels, labor, packaging, and environmental impact in production are all wasted along with every bit of wasted food, and efforts to mitigate hunger in our country need to be increased. It’s crazy.

Getting your money’s worth out of anything you buy, whether it’s food, clothing, tools or toys, requires summoning your inner pioneer to think creatively and use every bit. Rule number one in frugality is to waste nothing. Maybe that’s a high bar, but a worthy goal. Start your meal planning by shopping your fridge, freezer, pantry, and garden. Try a sheet pan bake of all the odd bits of veg and meat that needs attention.

Saving Meat Fats By Mary King

Get more out of perishables:

  • Learn how to store meat and produce for longest freshness.
  • Eat your cauliflower leaves (use it like cabbage), broccoli stems (peel and slice), squash skin and pumpkin seeds (roast in the oven and season). Greens attached to vegetables, like radishes, beets, carrots, turnips, are usually edible and highly nutritious.
  • Save clean carrot peels, parsley stems, corn cobs and other trimmings in a jar or freezable bag. When it’s full, make a pot of vegetable broth to use in soups and grain cooking.
  • Meat bones, even off the plates at the end of dinner, can be similarly saved to make stock, either alone or with the vegetable scraps.
  • Meat fats rendered in cooking can be strained, poured into a jar, and reused for cooking. Save your olive oil and butter and sauté some vegetables in bacon grease or chicken fat.
  • Fruit peels contain natural pectin, which can be added to juice as it simmers for jelly and strained out or can be used to make scrap vinegar.
  • Limp, sad produce, unless it’s moldy or slimy, is perfectly fine for almost any cooking application. Many vegetables that we serve raw in the United States, like radishes and celery, are just as delicious cooked. Chop and freeze if you can’t use it today, and add to your recipes for a nutrition and fiber boost, or add it to your scraps for broth.
  • Leftover leafy salad? Even if it’s got a light coating of vinaigrette (not coated in mayo-based dressing), it can be chopped and added to soup, your breakfast scramble, tacos, or blended into a dressing or dip.
  • Citrus rinds are very versatile! Never slice an orange, lemon or lime without grating or peeling the zest and saving it in the fridge or freezer or drying it. Grated zest is that something extra in baked goods, dressings and sauces, while a strip of peel is lovely in your tea, a stir fry, cocktail, or candied. Combine grated citrus rind with some pantry staples to make a safe and naturally fragrant abrasive cleaner.
  • If you know your household will only consume part of a bread loaf before it’s stale, freeze half as soon as you bring it home, or embrace old bread as a recipe staple, as does most of Europe. Stale bread is essential for French toast, bread pudding, croutons, bruschetta, panzanella, and gives body to pureed soups. It can also be ground up for crumbs and used to coat fried foods, extend ground meat, or become a gratin on a casserole.
  • You can freeze milk and cheese! You can freeze that half empty container of chicken broth, pesto, tomato sauce, hummus. The freezer should be used to give you a little more time, not as expensive garbage storage. Label what you freeze and keep an inventory taped to the door, with dates, and shop here when you’re cooking.
  • Small amounts of leftover cooked grains can be used in soups, muffins, one-pan dinners, salads. Mix grains! That ¼ cup of rice will play well with the extra quinoa, oatmeal or even pasta.
  • Did your child leave a half-eaten apple or banana on her plate? Chop and add to tomorrow’s oatmeal, breakfast muffins or pancakes.
  • EAT YOUR LEFTOVERS. Incorporate small amounts into new meals, or just set out all the small portions for a smorgasbord of bites. The family member who balks at eating leftovers probably won’t be the wiser if you’ve added some cheese, put it in a pie crust, or blended it in a soup. Bring home and quickly consume your restaurant leftovers, too. They can also be part of creative new dishes.

Saving Herbs By Mary King

Shelf stable products are wasted all too often because of confusion about “best by” dates. Canned and dried foods can be safe and delicious for months or years, as long as they’re properly stored.

Do a food waste audit from time to time. Take notes on what goes into the trash or compost for a week or longer. Fine tune your shopping and cooking according to this information. Maybe you can buy less of those ingredients by purchasing unpackaged (two oranges instead of a bag, or a cup of whole wheat flour from the bulk aisle instead of a five-pound bag) or choose foods you prefer to cook and eat. Don’t forget that you can give away edible food in gifting groups or to friends and neighbors. Opened bag of dog food that your pooch hates? Half a birthday cake from a party? Frozen meat that you know you won’t eat? Someone out there can use these.

Learning to preserve foods is a great way to cut down on food bills, because you can buy on sale or in bulk. It does involve investment in tools and time, and it doesn’t necessarily eliminate waste. You don’t need to be a master home economist to waste less food, and you’ll be helping more than your wallet.

What helps you get the most out of your food budget? How do you avoid food waste in your home or at work? Perhaps you’re involved in wider community action around food waste and hunger reduction efforts. We’d love to hear from you.

Mary King is an alumna of the Washington State University Extension Service’s programs in Sustainable Community Stewardship and Master Gardening. As a crafter, cook, gardener, and homemaker she has practiced frugality, reuse, recycling, and creative upcycling for over half a century.

Focus on What You DO Want

Photo by Raine Nectar on

When I was fourteen, I started volunteering at the Spokane Humane Society animal shelter in the 1980s. It took me two early morning buses and a one mile walk from the last bus stop to get there. On my first day I was to start helping out in the puppy room as all new volunteers did. At one point I was asked to get a bucket and a mop from the second door down the hall on the left. Somehow in that short walk I forgot which door to go into though, the first or the second? I went in the first door.

It was the incinerator room. In the center of the room was a pile of dogs and cats. They looked like they were sleeping. I wanted to run out of the building crying and never look back, but my feet wouldn’t let me. When my feet finally did move, they took me down the hall to the next door to grab the bucket and the mop. My only thought being, “If I run away now, I can’t help the animals that are still living.”

My family struggled with a lot of things. My city struggled with a lot of things and still does to this day. Back then, if you didn’t like it, well then, “Suck it up, Buttercup.” or “Welcome to Spokane, Sugarplum.” We felt few people were as tough as us, except maybe someone from Detroit or DC. I’d developed a high tolerance for what I was willing to put up with in life, but I wasn’t willing to accept the death of so many animals. “What are you going to do about it, little girl?” The antagonistic red-neck voice in my head sneered. “I’m going to lower the body count.” I thought matter-of-factly.

I went back to the puppy room determined to learn how to make a difference. When you grow up in a tough environment you learn to think on your feet real fast. If you can’t be stronger, be faster, and if you can’t be faster, be smarter! I quickly learned the ins and outs of the shelter’s operations. During that whole summer I worked 7 days a week from 7am to 7pm same as the shelter’s open hours. I was dependable and consistent. No one looked at me and saw a fourteen-year-old girl or a half-slack volunteer. I earned an equal amount of respect and responsibility as the people that work there. I just didn’t get paid for it.

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko on

I’ve always been pretty good at reading people. It’s a survival skill, but you can only learn so much by looking at someone. I started asking the people what they were looking for in a dog or cat. Do they work a lot? Do they have a house or live in an apartment? The more questions I asked, the more I was able to determine which animals at the shelter would fit the person’s personality and living conditions. I spent a lot of time with these animals. I knew their personalities, their strengths, and their weaknesses. I taught dogs to be potty-trained. I trimmed excess hair away from their eyes so they could use their “puppy eyes” to their full advantage. I taught them how to “shake hands”, “bow” or put their paw over their nose when I asked, “Who farted?” Was it a little gimmicky? Yeah, but everybody wanted a dog like Benji or Lassie at the time, not a Cujo.

For the cats, I kept them clean and immediately quarantined any with the slightest hint of upper respiratory infection. The cats were housed in one room free to roam and the infection is highly contagious. If the room full of cats got the infection, the whole room was put down. We had neither the money nor the manpower to treat them, despite it being as treatable as the common cold in humans.

I drafted out “Adopter profiles” on a yellow legal pad and gave it to the Shelter Director. I gave her additional notes on what I’d learned about what people wanted and how to help the animals meet those needs so that no one left the shelter without an animal. Summer was quickly coming to an end and so was my volunteer time. I couldn’t do both school and volunteer work. As a student with dyslexia who never received support or special allowances, I struggled with schoolwork, low grades, and low self-esteem. At the shelter, I never felt dumb, and I knew what I was doing mattered. The Shelter Director was genuinely grateful for my contribution, and I remember her and the other people I worked with fondly. Of all the animals I’d personally helped get adopted out only one was returned and I still found a home for her before her time ran out. They also hadn’t had to euthanize the entire cat room since my intervention. I’d dramatically reduced the body count. I wish I could have saved them all, but — “I didn’t do nothing.”  I did something!

Years later I’d be living here in Western Washington, married, owning a home, and taking advantage of a free dog training class with my newly adopted dog at the Bellevue Humane Society. They had us fill out a questionnaire about our living situation and lifestyle and it made me think of those “Adopter profiles” I’d made so long ago.

During the dog training class the trainer talked about positive reinforcement. No more shoving a dog’s nose in poop to let them know they’d done wrong. I’d never subscribed to abusive training tactics, but I didn’t know there was a name for the opposite of it. You know how sometimes you feel a certain way or have an idea about something, but you don’t have a name for it? It’s really satisfying when you do learn the feeling or the concept has a name. Positive reinforcement, is something I believe in.

The trainer said something really meaningful that has stayed with me:

Focus on the behaviors you want; not the ones you don’t want.

When you think about it, it’s not just about dog training, but parenting, negotiating with difficult people and our attempts to realize own goals.

I’ve internalized the concept even farther:

Focus on what you want; not on what you don’t want.

How can you change what’s bothering you if you don’t know what you want in life? How can you realize a goal if you don’t know what the goal? I think of goal setting as a mountain path. If you’re working through a complex problem, you often need to start with smaller steps to reach the bigger ones. Sometimes you’ll have to step off the path to gather resources, mentors and/or acolytes but always keep the path and the goal within your sight.

We’ve come a long way when it comes to animal welfare in the United States. We’ve strengthened animal abuse laws, we’ve made it culturally unacceptable to abuse or neglect animals, and we’ve reduced the number of euthanasia in animal shelters. In 2019, the U.S. pet care industry was worth $95.7 Billion dollars! * I don’t think that’s an entirely good thing by itself, but it does demonstrate a cultural shift in our behaviors and beliefs about animal care. Other countries are also making progress in both human and animal welfare, it certainly isn’t limited to just one country!

When it comes to improving the future of humanity and the planet itself, we can’t wait decades to shape holistic climate change policies. We need to find our own paths up the mountain. What are we as individuals and societies willing to consider acceptable in the future? I believe we’re at the forefront of a new zeitgeist of environmental consciousness. For generations the science fiction genre of apocalypse scenarios  has been popular and has tried to warn us of what “could be.” None of us actually want to live through an apocalypse though! These stories remind us that humanity has always struggled and that we as individuals have always had to fight for what we believe in one way or the other. That’s what makes a hero. Stop waiting for someone else to be the hero. It’s you.

What should the narrative about the future of earth and humanity look like?

If you don’t want to live through an apocalypse, then what kind of future do you want?

How do we focus on the behaviors we want to see in ourselves and others? What kind of civilizations do we want to live in?

Please think about these questions. I would love to see some answers in the comments, but I understand if you’re the kind of person that prefer to do “quiet work.” I prefer to do quiet work, but I’m frustrated by what I perceive to be a lack of mentors. We see stories in the media everyday about what’s wrong and “worst case scenarios”, but where are the stories about how to change these things? I’m concerned that our collective fears and feelings of being overwhelmed could turn into acceptance and apathy of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I refuse to accept the deaths of millions of lives on events that haven’t happened yet.

Photo by Nandhu Kumar on

Footnote: * 55 Pet Industry Statistics: 2020/2021 Industry Growth, Market Data & Forecasts |

Earth Day 2022: The Earth Needs You, Yes, You!

Happy Earth Day, Nature-Led Friends!

One afternoon during the early days of the pandemic my spouse and I stumbled upon the same opinion article. The title of it doesn’t really matter anymore. What matters is how it made us feel. We were angry, frustrated, and sad. This seemingly well-to-do white guy in his 60’s (a Baby Boomer) was just going to give up on the fight against climate change. His opinion was that the issue of climate change was so great and so overwhelming he was just going to buy a nice house in a rural climate haven and take care of himself until he died. Basically, he was going to give up caring about anything or anyone else, but himself. Give up? Give up!?!?!

You can’t give up! First, We all contributed to where things are now both actively and passively. Isn’t it nice for him that he has the luxury to throw up his hands and hide somewhere? “Oh well, this sucks, I’m just not going to deal with it.” Come here, Mister, so I can give you an angry Greta Thunberg stare! Secondly, a lack of empathy for others is also lack of empathy for yourself. The sword cuts both. People who are invested in other people’s well-being live longer, healthier, and happier lives.

You don’t retire from a job, take your box of personal items home, and then lay down and die. At least, most people don’t. You start a new chapter in your life. Try new hobbies, learn new things, reconnect with friends and family and (hopefully) be grateful that you could afford to retire. At least, That’s what my older friends usually say. Many of the most self-sufficient people among us still have to rely on other people for something in their lives. (Examples include medical care, special maintenance or materials, or other things outside of their skillset.)

In my opinion, we owe it to all generations to look out for each other. Humans are social creatures, even if you consider yourself anti-social, you probably still need someone for something.

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Twelve years ago on Earth day I gave birth to a baby boy. Never has my desire to do right by both the planet and the next generation been more perfectly aligned. In my teens and 20’s I couldn’t have imagined being someone’s mother. I neither liked nor disliked kids and even though I worked minimum wage jobs and struggled to pay rent, I always cast my vote for the greater good. For infrastructure projects, libraries, schools, senior services, etc. It wasn’t important to me that I be able to reap the benefits personally. I’m only as strong and healthy as the community around me.

Suicidal ideation, apathy and loneliness spread like diseases. Right now, they’re public emergencies in many countries, exacerbated by the pandemic. I too get overwhelmed sometimes. I’ve been through dark times. I have to remain vigilant that little puddles of depression don’t become a flood. I need to be here for myself and others.

I have a theory that women might tend to live longer because we allow ourselves five-minute pity parties in the bathroom, then pull ourselves together and get back in the fight. I fight for you. I fight for my family, my communities, and the planet that we all call home. My sister works 16-18 hour shifts in a pediatric unit with patients who’ve failed at committing suicide. Let that sink in.

Our children are overwhelmed, scared, angry, sad, and confused. Kids know the world is messed. Some of them are standing up to do something about it, while others are lost in their own grief. They need us, we need them, and we need each other.

I’m here for you.

You might be physically alone, but you’re not emotionally alone.

We are connected.

I would grieve the loss of you.

 I don’t have all the answers. I can’t fix all the problems in the world, but I’m here. I do the best I can and I’m asking you to do your best too. Don’t exist, live!

I don’t like being labeled, but you can call me friend.

Am I a Climate Activist? I suppose, but I prefer the label “Advocate” more because I’m not inclined to go marching about, yelling or busting stuff up. “Activism” sounds very tiring. I need a cup of caffeine at the mere mention of the word. At least “Hacktivism” implies a chair and computer…

I could argue semantics until the cows come home.  Then wax poetically for hours about, whose cows they really are?

I do agree with the Climate Ad Projects purpose and mission. We do need A Billion Climate Activists (or whatever you want to call yourself) to make a difference.

Climate Ad Project – We need a billion climate activists

What I’m Currently Reading:

How to Prepare for Climate Change: A Practical Guide to Surviving the Chaos By David Pogue

It’s a really good start for how to make your life and home more climate resilient. You still need to do your own homework though. Ironically, one of the places he mentioned for being a climate haven is Spokane, WA, my hometown. Clearly, he’s never been there before. It has wildfires, occasional mini-dust bowl storms, icestorms and every other type of storm short of classified tornadoes and hurricanes.

Recently Watched:

Kiss The Ground – a documentary narrated by Woody Harrelson

It promotes Agroforestry for sequestering carbon in the soil. There was a restoration project in China that was particularly impressive, some 14,000 hectares restored!

Big Stepping stone goals for the year:

– Cancel my Chase Credit Card and let them know why I’m canceling. They’re one of the biggest financiers of fossil fuels. Open a new credit card that promotes and invests in aligned goals. (This was the most helpful article I found:

-Create a local sustainability business

-Research and possibly invest in solar panels this year

-Find other ways to make our home more climate resilient

-Buy an electrical vehicle this year? (Contingent on the price and financing of solar panel project and vehicle availability.)

Smaller Stepping Stone goals for the year:

– Maintain my current level of fitness

– Try at least five new cooking recipes

-Experiment with natural dye making (like from beets, dandelions, etc.)

Have you made any Community or Sustainability related goals this year?

If so, what are they?

Thank you for reading. Thank you for your time.