In the sociology class I took in college, my professor shared some research with us that had been conducted on people’s trash cans:
what’s in them, and what our trash can say about our income and our social identities. One of the statistics he shared from this study always stuck with me: the amount that people cut off the ends of their asparagus directly correlates to their income levels. For years, I have lightheartedly recalled this piece of information every time I prepare asparagus—I wonder what the trash spies will think of this one!—but it has also caused me to see my food differently: pieces and parts of fruits and vegetables that I consider scraps can be valuable sources of nutrition, or at least sustenance.
In a recent CSA box, I pulled out an item that was familiar to my eyes but new to my menu: leek scapes. I see these tall, green, hearty, sometimes flower-topped spears in sidewalk gardens and P-Patches all around Seattle and recognize each one as a sign that there are delicious homegrown alliums of some kind hiding beneath the surface of that soil. I had never considered its edibility before, only its indication of edible food below. I was pleasantly surprised to taste its mild and tender green skin and blossom, and I was even more excited by the knowledge that this was all hidden within what I had previously considered a food scrap.
These leek scapes inspired a scrap-saving crusade in my kitchen. I used to compost the green ends of the leek itself, now I cook the whole thing. Broccoli stems? They’re delicious sautéed or prepared just like the florets (especially when you peel them). That stringy brown stuff on the top of corn? Dry it and make a potassium-rich tea out of it! Beet, carrot, and broccoli greens are ideal for salads, pesto-making, or any other way you normally use hearty greens. The greenish flesh of the watermelon (before the rind) tastes just like a cucumber—and the rind itself is edible and nutrient-dense too! Just squirt some lime juice on it, or pickle it for best flavor. And one of the easiest ways to start using your food scraps is to start a broth bag: save your onion skins, garlic remnants, celery butts, carrot shavings, and herb stems and simmer them with water to make a delicious fresh vegetable broth.
Trying to do away with vegetable “scraps” has left me feeling not only financially savvy (more bang for my buck!), but also like I’m properly honoring the time, space, and energy that went into growing my food, which makes my meals that much more satisfying. Give your scraps a second look next time you reach for the compost!
Chaco Canyon Organic Cafe & Bakery, Greenwood