Stock and Wasted Food

One of the more interesting panels at Edible Institute this year was all about recent non-fiction food books. Three authors, Barry Estabrook, Terry McMillan and Jonathan Bloom were all there to talk about their experiences.

Estabrook, who wrote Tomatoland (affiliate link) and maintains the blog Politics of the Plate mostly asked questions of McMillan and Bloom, but did put in a few words of his own.

McMillan wrote The American Way of Eating (affiliate link) and does not appear to maintain a blog. ETA, 3 April 2012: It turns out she does, but the way I looked for it didn’t turn it up. Anyway, she blogs here.

Bloom wrote Wasted Food (affiliate link) and maintains a blog of the same name.

I’ve read Tomatoland, and it was fascinating and educational. Angelique and I will be running an online book club of the other two soon. Right now we’ve decided to wander into fiction, as our last few books have been non-fiction food books. (Or non-fiction-type. I’m not sure how a book that’s somehow a cookbook with significant amounts of memoir thrown in is classified.)

Wasted Food is, frankly, my current interest right now. I’m really looking forward to reading it, because I expect to learn a great deal. I learned a great deal from Tomatoland and expect to from The American Way of Eating as well, but Wasted Food makes me think it will give me something to really put my hands in. Not just things I can buy, or not buy, or letters and emails I can write, but actual actions I can take in my home.

I’m hopeful, I must admit, that there will be at least a few tips that are new to me on how to waste less food at home. That’s what I’m really looking forward to.

I’m also curious to see how he defines “food waste”. Sometimes, it’s obvious, right? That bag of spinach you (I) bought awhile back that got shoved to the back of the fridge until it turned into a bag of black slime, for example.

But what about bones?

When I buy a whole chicken, I keep all the bones and trimmings in a plastic container in the freezer until I have enough to make chicken stock. If I buy chicken parts (which is incredibly rare these days), I also keep any fat, skin or gristly stuff as well. I also keep carrot peels, onion tops and bottoms, celery bits and potato peels to add to it. It makes a delicious stock.

However, I only recently did this with pork bones, and am about to do so the first time with beef bones1. I never thought about bones from larger animals being “stock worthy”. These days, I do2.

So. Where do bones and carrot and onion peels fit into the equation? Carrot peels, I can kind of see being called “waste”, as the peel is perfectly edible AND palatable. Papery onion peels, less so. Bones? Bones have, all my life, basically been trash. Once they’re cooked, we couldn’t even give them to the dogs. And, frankly, given it’s pretty hard to eat bones (usually – I have had bone marrow, and loved it), I’m pretty comfortable with them going straight from the cutting board or the plate to the trash. Even if I no longer throw them away myself.

This is one of the burning questions I have about Bloom’s book. Are bones that are not made into stock or soup waste, or are they acceptably inedible as to be “trash”? Is there a grey area?

Anyway, this is all on my mind because I’m making a boatload of chicken stock tonight. It’s probably the largest number of carcasses I’ve ever put in a stockpot. I think I have four or five chickens worth of bones in there. Unusually, no veggie matter. I’m going to start veggie stock soon, and decided to keep the normal onion & carrot bits for that.

I hope your house smells as good as mine does right now, and I would really love to hear your thoughts on bones and other food waste grey areas in the comments.

1Which totally reminds me, I should get the beef neck bones out of the freezer to thaw to make stock tomorrow. I know I’m “supposed” to roast them first, but I’m not going to. I rarely roast bones before making stock.

2And let me tell you, it’s made me seem weird to people, because it’s prompted me to take home bones from restaurant meals. You’ve never seen a server look quite so perplexed as when you’ve asked them for a box to take home the “trash” of your meal. Okay. Okay. I guess by the definition of “weird” as “not within the norm”, it hasn’t just made me seem weird.

2 thoughts on “Stock and Wasted Food

  1. First, I am sometimes guilty of the bag of spinach slime. Most things are still usable when they go squishy – stock or soup for veggies, smoothies for fruit – but I haven’t yet found a way to rescue greens that are on the way out. My closest save was when I stuffed a spinach bag in the freezer just before it went bad, and I used it in a spinach pesto shortly afterwards, but I’ve lost more lettuce and spinach than I’m happy to admit.

    As to bones? Meh. I figure it’s good if you CAN use them, but you’re not going to food hell if you decide to throw them out once the meat’s gone. I commend you for making stock before tossing them, because it’s a good way to wring a little more out of the product before it hits the trash, but you have to draw a line somewhere and I’m personally happy drawing it after the meat’s gone. Otherwise where does the line go? After stock? Or should you be grinding the bones down to make bone meal for your garden?

    • Bonemeal, eh?

      I won’t lie. I’ve been thinking about Bokashi Composting, ever since I read a Chicago Tribune article about three families in the area that generate nearly zero waste. At least one family does compost the bones they have via bokashi methods.

      Not, to be clear, that I’ve been considering doing it myself. I’ve not yet figured out any composting, much less stuff that’s likely to be super stinky. Just I’ve been wondering about it and how those families deal with it.

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