A few weeks ago, I dug around in the fridge in search of something to snack on when I reached into the veggie bin and pulled out a bunch of radishes. The leaves were a dark, slimy mess and the radishes were rotting, all withered and soft, certainly not the crisp, spicy bite I was looking forward to. I flung them out onto our lawn thinking, “Oh, our resident squirrel will eat them.” The next day I threw out the herbs I didn’t use up before they became a gooey mess in their plastic bag and the day after that, expired yogurt and restaurant leftovers molding in the dark back corner of the center shelf. That’s just the fridge. On the counter was stale bread and a rock hard, mummified lime, which seems very odd since we do like an occasional daiquiri at our home bar, The Jollity Pavilion. That was just a few days of food waste. I’m disgusted with myself.

I buy this food with every intention of eating it all, of course. We all do. I gleefully bring home restaurant leftovers patting myself on the back for not gorging myself in one sitting and saving money by taking home what amounts to another full meal, but then I dine out again and the takeout boxes pile up. We talk a lot about the food waste that comes from restaurants and grocery stores, boxes of day-old baked goods in refuse bins outside big box stores. Now, there are organizations that help get that food to those who need it and enterprising people who engage in Dumpster Diving and eating food that just comes from dumpsters. There’s a great documentary called “Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story” about waste and food rescue in which filmmakers Jenny Rustemeyer and Grant Baldwin describe food waste from corporate farms where “imperfect” fruits and vegetables are rejected, retail stores and their own fridge. They vowed to survive just on food that would otherwise be thrown away for six months. Please do watch it. www.foodwastemovie.com/

The non-profit Ad Council, in partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council, launched “Save The Food,” a major national public service campaign to combat food waste from its largest source — us. Just individuals who together waste more food than grocery stores, restaurants or farms. They tell us that in the U.S., 40 percent of all food goes uneaten each year and of that consumers are responsible for 40 percent of that waste. We throw out almost 300 pounds of food a year, 20 percent of what we buy, about $1500 worth each year for a family of four. Not only does it impact our own lives on a micro-level, food waste also has environmental impacts with waste filling up landfills, using natural resources like water on growing food that goes to waste and the wasted energy from cooling and transporting food we just toss.

So what am I going to do about it? And how about you?

Use what’s on hand, first.

First, I have to assess my pantry and fridge each time I plan a meal. What can I make using what I already have. There’s a slightly wrinkled red pepper, a half bag of thin spaghetti and a jar of vodka sauce that’s about to start getting fuzz on top. I even have a little bit of cream left to make it extra rich. There’s dinner right there, along with the tail ends of zucchini, asparagus and a head of lettuce for salad. Oh, I have some leftover brisket from the local BBQ food truck, too. I’ll toss that in my pasta, too. Use what’s on hand and fill in from the store if necessary. It certainly saves me trips to the supermarket.

Those expiration dates.

I didn’t have to throw away that yogurt. When a food items says "sell by," "use by" or "best by" with a date, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to toss it by that date. "Best by," "use by," "best before" or "enjoy by" indicates when a food might not be its best or freshest, but it doesn’t mean it’s unsafe to eat.
"Sell by" is basically for the grocer to know when a product is at its peak for purchasing. Now, I eat my yogurt as soon as possible, but if it is past the suggested date, I just open it up and sniff and look.

Wilted veggies are just fine.

I also didn’t have to throw away the radishes. I bought them nice and fresh, then tossed them into the bin and promptly forgot about them. Now, I snip off the radish greens and use them in salad and soup, and in the parrot’s dish, but also put the radishes in a bowl in the fridge to snack upon at will. I simply made them more convenient to eat. But really, it was fine that they were soft. Sure, I’d miss that crispy crunch, but they’re still edible. I can also use wilted greens and “revive” them in a bowl of ice water. Still, storage is key, so use this handy guide which goes through how to store and revive or use the ends and leftovers from hundreds of foods. http://savethefood.com/food-storage

Buy just what you need.

I threw out those herbs, but not only did I buy too many at once, I should have packaged and frozen some of them at the outset. If I buy more than I need, in the freezer it goes, and that includes meats, veggies and herbs. I also plan out our meals a bit more now. We’re only two people, one a vegetarian, so keeping the meals smaller and well-planned saves food, too.

No more restaurant leftovers.

I’ve made a pact with myself to not order too much in a restaurant which not only helps my budget, but keeps the pile of leftover containers in the fridge to a minimum. We have a dog, so that helps, but when I do come home with half of my brisket and Cowboy beans, I’ve vowed to eat it all within two days. Sandwiches, stroganoff and soup are all options. No food gets thrown out in my house again!

Go to www.savethefood.com for much more information, tips and storage strategies.

The Dish:

Get your reservations for five special Tuesday night dinners at Tinos Greek Kitchen. On Oct. 4, chef Evan Hennessey from Stages at One Washington will take over the kitchen with a four- or eight-course menu with optional beverage pairings created by Michael Gehron. On Oct. 11, it’s chef Rob Martin from When Pigs Fly Pizzeria at the helm, then chef David Vargas from Vida Cantina on Oct. 18, chef Lee Frank from Otis.restaurant on Oct. 25 and chef Matt Louis from Moxy on Nov. 1. What fun! Call 926-5489 to reserve your seat or email manager@tinosgreek.com They take reservations for any time between 5 and 10 p.m.

On Oct. 7-9, Arts in Reach presents Tablescapes: Around the World 2016, where top designers come to the table, transforming the ordinary into something beautifully artistic. Not only do you get to see the ordinary dinner table transformed into glorious art, but you get ideas on how to dress up your own dinner table with flowers, dinnerware and more. There are also food and other events all weekend long, including Soup Swap author Kathy Gunst, Enna Grazier from Enna Chocolate, talks, entertainment and more, all at the Discover Portsmouth Center. http://www.artsinreach.org/events/2016-10/tablescapes

Rachel Forrest is a former restaurant owner who lives in Exeter (and Austin, Texas). She can be reached by email at rachel.forrest@localmediagroupinc.com. Read more of her Dining Out reviews online at www.seacoastonline.com/topics/dining-out.