No Waste Pasta Sauce

My blood boils and my stomach wrenches at the thought of throwing out food; when I’ve been negligent in planning or keeping track of produce and have to compost things. Heather, you might say, are you that cheap? You can just go buy more. Yes, friend, I could, but it’s frustrating that I worked hard to earn the money that I made in order to pay for that food, and then I will have to work hard again to make more money to pay for the food to replace the food that I had to throw out but could have eaten.

What a dumb cycle that I don’t care to get trapped in. Also, I understand that it is going into the compost and not the garbage, which theoretically is better, but one piece of garbage in a compost pile and the whole thing is ruined. That requires everyone to be wildly diligent that they don’t dispose of something incorrectly. People make mistakes. So I wonder, does it actually get composted, or sent to landfill? Neither of these are my true issue, or not my biggest one, anyway.

My issue is that there are many people in the world who are struggling and can’t afford food, and would have, if given the chance, devoured all that food and let none of it go to waste. I feel shame and embarrassment. It makes me feel like a privileged asshole, frankly. I understand that people make mistakes and things happen and life gets in the way, but the fact of the matter is, I have never been and am growing more and more uncomfortable with the thought of it by the day.

When I was younger, everyone always said “there are children starving in Africa who would love to be able to eat what you have.” That started my empathy right there. Knowing that in some other part of the world, someone who had no control over where they were born - just as I didn’t have any control over where I was born - is wanting and needing. He or she is and they are hungry and malnourished and would probably eat anything offered to them, even if they didn’t “like” it.

I live in Nanaimo, British Columbia, and have been floored for the last two years of living here at the amount of homelessness and poverty that lives in this city. It breaks my heart. It hurts my stomach. It has bruised my soul and dimmed my light. It has humbled me greatly.

There aren’t just children or people starving in Africa who are willing to eat that food, there are people around the corner from me who would be. That guts me. It makes me feel irresponsible and pretentious that I think I am so important that I can afford to waste precious food that others would have happily enjoyed or more responsibly looked after. I understand that is a harsh outlook, but frankly it is true. I also harbour some guilt that I am in the position that I am in and others on the streets or struggling to make rent or get groceries are in the situations that they are in.

Some may assume it was drugs or alcohol that put these people where they are, but they would be naive and they might be wrong. In some cases, a job loss or divorce or other life decision caused the downward spiral that put some of these people in the situations that they are in. Drugs and alcohol are things that one could exercise caution or abstinence around - though I recognize that addiction is a very real, very serious problem that many face - but job loss…. That could happen to anyone at any time (read: like in a pandemic…).

I choose to recognize this, appreciate what I have, and use it as fuel and inspiration to ensure that for the most part, I eradicate or vastly reduce my food waste from what it was even six months ago. I choose to express gratitude for the series of events in my life (and before my life) that have gotten me to where I am, to be in a position where I am able to afford good quality food. I am grateful for the fact that I am educated about healthy food and that I had parents who taught me how to cook and instilled the value of eating fruits and vegetables into my brothers and I, that it is now just second nature.

This continuous reminder, that voice in the back of my head telling me to smarten up and keep an eye on the crispers in the fridge, also propels me to get crafty with leftovers. The other day, I had a few handfuls of green tomatoes that were on the edge of going bad (and, admittedly, because I told you I would be honest… I had to compost some that had gone bad while I was on vacation), an onion and half a jar of pasta sauce that was also on the edge.

I decided to stretch the pasta sauce. I sauteed the onions in my Dutch oven, then threw the tomatoes in. I salted and added some Italian spices and roasted red pepper and garlic seasoning and left it to boil down with the lid on for about half an hour. After the tomatoes had popped, I added the pasta sauce. Another healthy dose of seasonings, a good stir, and a splash of wine and apple cider vinegar, then I let it bubble away for an hour and a bit. I taste-tested, and added a small slurp of maple syrup to sweeten it up. I left it for another hour.

My apartment smelled absolutely delectable. I had originally planned to freeze the sauce, but promptly decided to throw some water on to boil to make pasta and have it for dinner that night. It was one of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever had. It was made with lentil pasta… I don’t know if you’ve ever had lentil pasta; it is really delicious, and it still does not compare to some great semolina pasta. Still, I’ll say it again: it was one of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever had.

I absolutely understand that some of my love for it was that I poured the work into it. I also understand that some of that goodness came from the fact that I had saved most of the tomatoes from going to waste, as well as a half jar of sauce. I also loved that I figured out how to combine them all and make it delicious. Organic, local tomatoes couldn’t have hurt, either. All in all, a top notch meal that nourished in many ways (body, from the deliciousness and the nutritiousness, mind, from the challenge of tweaking the ingredients and ratios to get it just right, and spirit/soul for salvaging some food that I believe others would have tossed) and it made me feel really proud.

Tell me in the comments, in what ways have you gotten crafty with leftovers in your home?

With thoughtfulness,

Your friend,