Readers often ask me for tips on preventing food waste. I'm reluctant to paint myself as an expert in an area where I often feel like I have so much learning still to do. I'm good at only buying foods I like, freezing foods that are going bad, thinking of ways to use up stale bread, and hoarding vegetable scraps for other uses. But meal planning, taking regular inventory of the dry goods in my cupboard, and forgoing a meal out when I still have a lot of food in my fridge? Not my strongest suit.
One other area though where I've found myself in a good routine: swapping extra food with friends. The zero waste community here in Chicago is vigilant about not letting things go to waste. This has looked like everything from a text thread where we ask zero waste questions and offer up objects we'd like to find a new home for - a bag of potting soil, a humidifier - to meeting up for a stuff swap to sharing our favorite secondhand stores and recycling drop-off points.
It also looks like this: having dinner at a friend's house a few weeks ago, she rummaged around in her fridge and pulled out some extra food for me to take home. Her household was in CSA overload and she wanted to make sure the food got used, so I left with a carrot, an onion, and some lettuce bundled up.
My friends and I have the same types of cloth produce bags for the most part (these and these), so we never swap food in those (they'd get mixed up with the recipient's and accidentally never returned). Instead, my friend sent me home with the produce wrapped in a cloth tea towel, furoshiki style, as shown below. I ate the lettuce as a salad, and turned the onion and carrots into a mirepoix for that week's soup.
I've often been on the other end of this, too. When I'm heading on vacation and have more food than I can eat before I go, I'll bring a piece of produce with me when I meet up with a friend, offer it up at work, or send out a text: "Hey, can you use ___?"
Anyway. Swapping food needn't be premeditated or fancy or include a large amount. Heads of lettuce are worth sharing, as are single tomatoes and fruits and peppers. And free food is much better than the kind you pay for, so here's some encouragement to go out on a limb and start a food swapping culture with your friends. They'll doubtless be grateful for the extra watermelon, soup, or kale you've realized you don't need.
Sharing unused food is hardly revolutionary - but sometimes it's good to have a reminder to stop and think for a minute before pitching something in the compost. What food have you passed along lately?