Year for the Planet Week 21: Zero Food Waste — In Pursuit of Zero Waste Produce

Before you can fix the world, you have to fix yourself. Year for a Planet is a personal challenge to be a better human for the planet for a whole year. This year, 2017, is where I deal with my food choices.

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Eating the whole fruit and vegetable from skin to seed is one way I reduce waste. While they’re compostable, I just feel bad throwing away fruit and vegetable peels and seeds when they’re perfectly edible and, more importantly, contains so many nutrients. This week, I write about the produce that are regulars in my shopping cart, and how I try to eat them all.

1. Lemon
High point: Lemons are among my favorite do-it-all fruits. I use the juice as a natural non-toxic deodorant and face toner, and as part of recipes. As for the rind, I grate it into zest and use it for my energy ball recipes.

Low point: It’s not endemic to where I am and so this is shipped via sea cargo from Lord knows where. In Manila, each lemon costs about 35 pesos, and I remember a time when it was held up at the port for some bureaucratic reason and the lemons cost almost twice that. When I see good harvests of the local limes, called calamansi, I use those instead. I love this story of my grandfather from my Filipino side, who would massage his face with calamansi juice, and I realize that the impulse to take good care of one’s skin may be genetic.

2. Orange
High point: I like making candied oranges where I slice up the whole fruit, including the skin. I pair this with homemade no-sugar chocolate cake, which is basically whole-wheat pancakes with cocoa powder. This, together with sugar-free dark chocolate, is enough to assuage my sweet tooth, which I realize isn’t that sweet after all—I just got used to so much sugar over the years.

Low point: In taekwondo terms, I’m probably just a blue belt as a baker, and so even with good intentions, I sometimes overcaramelize and burn my oranges. A tip from someone who nearly set two pans on fire: a shorter cook time is better.  Also, there are other produce that are local and are also a good source of vitamin C, such as tomatoes, so I wouldn’t call oranges a necessity.

3. Zucchini
High point: I stick the entire thing in a spiralizer and everything comes out as noodles, skin and seeds, and all! It soaks up whatever sauce I put it on, and so I don’t miss pasta at all. My spiralizer will only take a maximum of 300 grams of zucchini, else it becomes too thick, so I do like this equipment-dependent sense of portion control.

Low point: It’s not the cheapest vegetable, and water is hard to remove from zucchini noodles. Also, seriously what is with it with wrapping these in cling wrap? In the Philippines, people have this delusion that wrapping things in plastic makes it of better quality. Enough!

4. Sweet Potatoes
High point: The skin is packed full of nutrients, such as fiber, beta carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, folate, potassium, and iron. I don’t really need much convincing, as eating the skin means less prep work. Sweet potatoes are one of the cheapest and most filling foods. I’m planning on growing them in a bucket, because, well, apparently it’s possible.

Low point: They can look really hideous, but ignore that and just chop off the nasty parts. Also they can get really squishy and inedible if you leave them be for a while, and depending on the species, they can leave your hands quite sticky after you slice them up. A sweet potato weighs more than it looks, so I would always weigh my portions before I cook.

5. Bananas
High point: They’re one of my primary source of carbohydrates. I usually make a banana-peanut butter-turmeric smoothie before I work out. Bananas are also local and very easy to get by, and overripe ones can still be used.

Low point: I know you can eat the peel, but I just don’t know if the ones I buy are clean enough. When they are, I cut up some bits and toss them in my smoothie before blending. I do like plucking the “strings” off of the inside part of the peel for extra potassium.

Plastic Produce
But zero-waste produce also extends to packaging. In my local grocery, the staff have started to recognize me as the customer who rejects the plastic when she asks her produce to be weighed, only after I screech, “I said, no plastic!” as I always have to repeat myself. Such a deeply ingrained habit plastic is in Southeast Asia! The other day, this happened at the weighing counter:

“No plastic, please.”
“Are you sure?” the guy asks me, smirking along the way.
“Yes, you sheeple!” I exclaimed, as I glance at a passing customer who had one—ONE!—lemon in a plastic bag. It’s moments like this when I think that it’s totally hopeless.

I currently live in a city where not all produce can be bought plastic-free, such as tomatoes, which are inexplicably always in plastic bags or cling wrap. There are those I already reject, such as strawberries, which are my favorite fruit but are always in styrofoam and plastic wrapping, and packed in such a way as you don’t get to see that the bottom strawberries are small and almost inedible.

Despite my best intentions, out of the 23 items in my grocery cart every month, only 61% is plastic-free (i.e. if they have packaging, they are made of glass or paper). I must do better; I still have 7 months left for this project!

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