Green living tip: don’t throw away expired food – eat it!

Show of hands – who wants to save the planet?

I thought so. It’s not hard to get a majority on that one. These days, most of us are trying to do our bit for the environment.

We’re horrified to hear about perfectly good food being trucked to landfills. Four million tons a year in the U.K., says the BBC. In the States, restaurants alone heave 6,000 tons a day into their dumpsters, according to blogger Jonathan Bloom. You can bet it’s no different in Canada.

Restaurants and supermarket chains aren’t alone in such sinful wastage. Every day, ordinary people like you and I shovel “expired” food from our fridges straight into the garbage.

What’s wrong with that? It’s expired, isn’t it?

I always told my children, “It says best before, not rotten after. Best before, meaning that after that date, it’s not at its best; it’s down to better. After that comes good, OK, so-so, and down the list until you get to ‘not fit’.”

How do you know when it’s not fit to eat? My father, who worked as a cook, butcher, baker, and chef all his life, knew everything there was to know about food. When I asked him the same question, he said, “If you can get it past your nose, your stomach will handle it.”

How else could it be? What else did people have, besides eyes and noses, to tell them if food was edible or not, between the dawn of time and the late 20th century, when governments in their wisdom decided that certain foods should be date-stamped?

Yogurt will last for weeks after it ‘expires’

The intention was never to have you chuck it out when the best before date passed.

Here’s what the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s website said[1]: “When the best before date … of a food has passed, the food may lose some of its nutritional value, such as vitamin C content. It may also lose some of its flavour, or its texture may change. ”

So when the best before date passes, the food is no longer perfect. But it’ll still be perfectly acceptable to eat for a nice while. Your tub of yogurt will last for weeks after it “expires.”

Nature didn’t give you taste buds and a sense of smell only to enjoy food; they’re also there to evaluate food. If you don’t know when food has gone bad, it’s probably because you’ve never seen or smelled an example. Trust me – you’ll know. Common sense is like a muscle: use it or lose it.

In the U.K., the chucking of “expired” food is such a problem that there’s a move afoot to change date stamping of foods to correct the misperception that “best before” is the same as “use by.”

Strange, isn’t it? We all have brains. Wouldn’t it be great if we used them?

Want to save the planet?

Stop throwing away good food.

Daily, we’re exhorted to reduce; reuse; recycle. I suppose it didn’t occur to whoever coined the three Rs that before we think about reusing, maybe we should think about using.

Somewhere in this wacky place we live in, I’ll bet there’s someone pouring the contents of a tub of expired yogurt down the drain. Then they’ll wash out the container and toss it into the recycling bin, feeling self-satisfied and virtuous about doing their bit for the planet.

Some of the stuff we do, honestly. It’s too foolish to talk about.

[1]Said, that is, up until June, 2009 when they did a complete about face on their advice to consumers. A real whiplash-inducing about face. See my next column: Has common sense reached its expiry date?

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