Eating Garbage: Making the Most of Our Food

By , January 25, 2010

I had an odd realization a few weeks ago. My family was eating dinner. Most of our focus and effort was on the meal, although one or the other of us surfaced briefly now and then to remark on the meal’s deliciousness. We were all full, but we couldn’t resist seconds, perhaps even thirds, because we couldn’t stop savoring the flavors. How incongruous, then, that I would suddenly realize we’re eating garbage.

I’d best explain immediately. Our meal is turkey soup. This meal arose from the remains of our Christmas dinner, when Michelle simmered the “frame,” the skeleton of our turkey on the woodstove most of a day. She added spices, herbs, and homegrown vegetables, and let it cook some more. Finally, she added some dumplings. The resulting meal is fit for a king!

So where does the garbage come in?


• Americans throw away at least 40% of their meals every day!
• Many Americans will not eat leftovers at all!
• Our homegrown vegetables—perfectly sound, wonderfully nutritious—aren’t pretty enough to pass physical inspection in your local grocery store.

Except for the herbs, spices, and flour for the dumplings, everything in our soup would be garbage in most American homes.

Many Americans turn their noses up at leftovers. We even know people like this personally—luckily, I can’t recall whom at the moment, or I’d “out” them on the Internet right now. Even the venerable turkey dinner, lauded for its production of leftovers, is in reality barely used at all before it’s thrown in the garbage. A day or two of sandwiches, and it’s out of there. Some few go so far as to make soup, but far too many do not.

As for the vegetables, for most of us, they come from the grocer, not from the ground, and they’d better be picture perfect, or it’s no sale. Bruised, blemished, slightly less than classically shaped, and they’re relegated to the dumpster out back.

That’s a sad, sobering realization. This soup is so good, it’s like eating dessert for dinner! It fed us for two nights. It would have gone three, maybe more, if we could have controlled ourselves, and not gotten greedy about tasting more and more of the excellent flavors.

But here’s one more detail: this batch of soup was the second one Michelle made with that frame. She’d already made one batch from it, which fed us for 3-4 days. This soup came from leftover leftovers.

This isn’t an isolated case. All of our meals are like this—very few of them fail to generate leftovers, that will be used in a variety of ways until they’re completely consumed. We have no refrigerator or freezer, so occasionally food spoils or is contaminated by rodents before we eat it, but we work hard to avoid that.

Michelle’s an excellent cook, but she’s not a miracle worker. Anyone could make a soup as good as this with very little training, skill, or effort. All it takes is a willingness to eat the wonderful, bountiful food that most of us wouldn’t even consider, other than as garbage.

You will find a version of the essay above, as well as writing on similar and related topics in Sacred Coffee: A “Homesteader’s” Paradigm by Mark A. Zeiger, available in print, eBook, and audiobook editions. The published version will likely be expanded, clarified, or updated from what you have just read.

2 Responses to “Eating Garbage: Making the Most of Our Food”

  1. Joan says:

    Hi Mark. How about sharing your recipe for turkey-frame soup? My mouth is watering just reading this post (also read on SRE). It’s getting to be that time of year when I will be cooking a turkey. I’ve made turkey-frame soup before but I’d love to try Michelle’s recipe.

  2. Mark Zeiger says:

    Oh yeah, Joan, me too! Must be the change of weather. I could take a stab at Michelle’s rcipe, but I’ll ask her for it when she returns home Monday or Tuesday. Who knows, maybe we’ll have to do a “lab” on it, just to make sure we get it right . . . .

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