All That We Leave Behind

This was a banner day. Today’s nearly 50 degree temps reminded me of this one day last summer.

We made a huge batch of salsa, and with the left over tomato juice that we drained off as the salsa was cooking we made a wonderful gazpacho. The salsa included tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, onions, corn, jalapeño peppers and Hungarian wax peppers, and cilantro, all from the farm (we also included garlic, not from the farm). For the gazpacho we also added green bell peppers and cucumber.

Then we made refrigerator pickles from a combination of cucumbers and lemon cucumbers (small round yellow cucumbers). The pickles had cucumbers and parsley or dill (depending on the batch) from the farm and garlic (again, not from the farm).

At the end of the day we were left with a garbage can half full of stems and stalks, leaves and rough ends, tomato skins and pepper seeds. In most cases these were the utterly unusable parts of the vegetable. Incredibly most recipes called for us to skin and seed the vegetables. However, we only did that when the skin was in bad shape or we didn’t want the spice of the seeds. And still, we ended up with a collection of cast off veggie scraps that seemed at least to dwarf the end product.

While these scraps could easily be heaved, out of sight and out of mind, into a compost bin. It seems worth pausing to consider them, to be aware of all that we leave behind.

What we leave behind was brought forcefully to mind that night when, arriving home from a walk, Erica and I found our garbage can disturbed. Our dog, Milo, had gotten into the trash and rooted around in the piles of veggie parts. What he found in there, and likely what caught his nose to begin with, was a rind of cheese Erica had thrown out around lunch time. It seemed to be the only thing missing from the trash.

If you are reading this, and wondering if cheese rind is edible, you can imagine how we felt looking down at our mischievous beagle, wagging his tail sheepishly in the kitchen. I scoured the internet, pouring over more cheese websites than I would have guessed possible, and the answer seems to be, yes, all cheese rinds are edible (though few are really enjoyable – unless perhaps you are a canine).

Having our cast-offs all of a sudden come rushing back to haunt us got me thinking about what we waste even when we think we are making good use of our produce. How much more careful could I have been when I cut that rotten spot out of the plum tomato, or when I was cutting the end off that cucumber – come to think of it, why cut the ends off cucumbers which don’t have pronounced stems like zucchini or squash.

This all comes back to how we value a thing. When I was doing trail work, we held ourselves to the standards of leave no trace ethics, and food was much more scarce. Out on the trail we ate the entire apple, core and all. When we had left over oatmeal from breakfast, we wrapped it in a tortilla with peanut butter and jelly and ate it for lunch. We washed our bowls with hot water, no soap, and drank the liquid slurry in our morning coffee or hot chocolate.

We can waste less, but first we have to learn to see what we waste and learn to value things in new ways.

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