Celebrate Earth Day in the Kitchen

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It’s Earth Day! That brings up thoughts of the environment and what we can do to help it. Many people do activities that can help awareness such as planting trees, playing outside, or picking up trash. This got me thinking about what would be an appropriate Family and Consumer Science Earth Day topic. One that quickly came to mind that is food waste.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that 30-40% of available food in the U.S. is wasted. That’s over 78 billion pounds per year with a value of over $161 billion. Food can be lost or wasted at many places between harvest to the kitchen. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that more food reaches landfills than any other part of our everyday trash.

OK…so let’s bring this number down a little to the “family” level. Forty-four percent of food waste occurs in the home. It’s estimated the average American family tosses out about 20% of the food they buy. This averages about 220 pounds of food or about $370 per person per year.

According to the Produce for Better Health Foundation, of foods wasted, fruits and vegetables ranked first, followed by homemade meals, bread, meat, milk, and packaged foods. The top reason why people waste food is that they worry about food poisoning. The other top reason is a desire to eat only the freshest foods.

Don’t think you waste that much? Most people underestimate how much they really do throw out. Why not take an Earth Day Challenge? For one week, watch and measure how much food your family throws out. Record how much and track why you didn’t eat it. Also, estimate the approximate value. Remember throwing away food is throwing away money, too. This may help you waste less in the future.

Another Earth Day idea is to eat those potentially “wasted” food pieces by using them to make vegetable stock.

NC State Extension’s Med Instead of Meds file shares a recipe developed by Chef Ellen Clevenger-Firley for vegetable stock. She suggests you can make a great stock using leftover vegetable scraps. These could be the pieces that you would normally throw away after cleaning and cutting for cooking, such as broccoli stalk, carrot tops or peels, mushroom bottoms, celery leaves, or the end of the celery bunch. She suggests saving them in a sealed container in the freezer until you have enough to make the stock.

Use this recipe as a “starter” for how to do it, substituting your “saved” vegetables as the major ingredients. Other ingredients you might like to use (if you have them) could be eggplant, corn cobs, fennel (stalks and leaves), bell peppers, chard (stems and leaves), potato peels, celery root parings, or any other vegetables you might have on hand. If you’re using peels or trimmings from vegetables, make sure you’ve washed and scrubbed them.

Cutting board with 3 soup bowls surrounded by carrots, celery, mushrooms, and garlic.

Three bowls of vegetable stock surrounded by vegetables.

Vegetable Stock


  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 celery stalks (including the leaves)
  • 3 large carrots
  • 3 leeks
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 sprigs fresh parsley
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 8 cups water


Chop the scrubbed vegetables into one-inch chunks. Remember, the greater the surface area, the more quickly the vegetables will yield their flavor. Heat the oil in a large soup pot. Add vegetables and cook over high heat for 5-10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the salt and water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Strain and discard vegetables. Store stock in the refrigerator for up to one week or in the freezer for up to six months. Use in any recipe calling for stock.

More Information

Not into cooking with your “food waste?” You can still put your food scraps to work by composting them. At least this way you’re giving the nutrients back to the soil. NC State Extension has resources that can help with composting, visit Home and Backyard Composting.

There’s a lot of things families can do in the home to help the earth celebrate this special day and week. Wasting less food can help improve the nation’s food security and nutrition, can help to reduce landfill emissions, help the overall economy and also the family food budget. Happy Earth Day!


NC State Extension Local Food Resources

Produce for Better Health

Cheryle Syracuse wrote this article and more similar ones for the Family and Consumer Sciences Column in the Brunswick Beacon. Syracuse is an FCS team member and can be reached at N.C. Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center, 910-253-2610.