This is the end of our romaine lettuce heart.
For most people, reaching the last few leaves of a lettuce heart isn’t even worth considering; perhaps it’s even a weekly occurrence. For us, however, it feels like a big deal. A few weeks ago we got a wake up call regarding many aspects of how we were living our lives, two of which were our spending and our diets. We have always tried to eat healthily but you know how it goes: two or three days of solid effort leads to a cookie here and there and ends with a late-night trip to McDonald’s. Suddenly we’re off the wagon and back to unhealthy habits. When we had to reconsider our spending, we discovered that we were spending an inordinate amount of money on eating out several times a week and groceries that we wasted. The first issues was easier to address than we thought it would be. A previous post focused on our first week of eating in for every meal and I’m proud to say that we’ve kept that trend going, already saving over a hundred dollars in the past two weeks. The second item–wasting groceries–was harder to address.
We usually have a semi-list when we head off to the grocery store twice a month. We generally know what we need to get to cook on and off and to keep enough snacks in the house to give us what we need to snack at work as well. But this method doesn’t really work for a number of reasons, the primary one being an overestimation of our grocery needs. I can’t count how many half-full containers of hummus I have thrown away because I became distracted with other snacks and left the tasty chickpeas spread to become a liquidy mess in the back of the fridge. Cucumbers have wrinkled and dried up waiting to be made into homemade pickles. Lunch meat has gone bad, buried at the bottom of the meat and cheese drawer. Tzaziki has spoiled. Yogurt has molded. Lettuce has wilted. It’s one of the easiest ways to waste money.
When we decided to count every penny we were spending and pull back on our spending, we noticed how often we over-bought groceries and how much went into the trash. This was embarrassing for us to admit because we have often espoused that we like to conserve. We care about the environment and the impact we have on it, but until recently we have only partially participated in a similar lifestyle. A little over a month ago, I became interested in a zero-waste lifestyle, one in which you adjust your habits to reduce the waste you create, be it through reducing waste creation, recycling what you can, or refusing to bring in waste at all. Individuals who aim for this lifestyle can range from small changes such as introducing recycling to their every day lives to extreme habits such as creating their own deodorant to control what enters their bodies and to keep from purchasing a product that is sold in a plastic container. (For an example of the latter, I encourage you to read about Bea Johnson, one of the first zero-wasters.) When I began to consider the goal of being a zero-waster, I was struck by how mindless some of our habits had become–I never considered the landfill, this magical place where our trash disappeared to every other day, and how it could sit there for centuries, never truly decomposing. I rarely thought about how the plastics that tossed into trash cans on the beach could become the trash that entangled a turtle after someone carelessly knocked it over on a windy day. Even food waste that we let go bad in the fridge because we simply forgot about it made for more trash that had to be hauled across the city and deposited into the same landfill as our plastics. That bothered me.
Thankfully, my partner is very understanding when I get on a kick of any kind and is also a conservationist at heart. She joined my efforts quickly and we now consider every action we do in our lifestyle to see how we can make a change. I now try to remember to turn off lights when I leave the room because we don’t need more energy generated, small as it might be. I try to turn off the water when I’m soaping up my hands and then turn it back on to rinse them instead of wasting the water between the two actions. We think how we can reuse items or who we can give them to rather than throwing things away mindlessly. We recycle daily, including bringing home our waste from work where recycling is not an option. We reuse baggies that we can’t avoid. The other day my partner even commented that she avoided baggies in her lunch by wrapping her snack in a paper towel that she later used as her napkin. (I love her for that!) It’s little things like that that really start to add up over a few days if you can do them.
So back to our little romaine heart. Why does it matter? Because we started making lists and going to the store weekly. Every Sunday we pop up to the store with a list of items that will give us meals for the entire week, including breakfasts and lunches if there won’t be leftovers. We consider how many snacks we will need and only buy what we need. And we have tried to eat absolutely everything we have bought. A ham steak the other night made two dinners with a little leftover, just enough for half a serving. Rather than overeating–remember that we are also reconsidering how to be healthier–we kept it for one more night and put it in our eggs this morning for breakfast. When it came to lettuce, two months ago we only bought the bagged lettuce. You know the pre-washed, pre-cut sort where all you have to do is pull out a handful and drop it in the bowl? But we found that it went bad and wilted or was slimy before we could eat it all…if we made it that far into the bag. When we reconsidered price, how much we needed, and healthier options, we switched to fresh romaine hearts. We haven’t stopped eating salad since then! The price is cheaper for the amount of lettuce that comes in a full romaine heart, it’s fresher, it lasts longer, and all of that adds up to us eating it all. In other words, we get our hard-earned money out of that lettuce and we enjoy it. We like knowing that it’s fresher and that we know what is going into our food. We haven’t switched to everything being fresher, though we want to start shopping at the local farmers’ market soon as well as trying to make some of our own foods, such as cheese and salad dressings, rather than buying pre-made at the store. This also can cut down on how many packages and plastics we bring in, reducing our recycling and overall waste. It’s a win-win!
My partner had already reached the end of a romaine heart with our last batch while I wasn’t home. So this was the first one I got to see with the tiny fronds sticking up from a pineapple-looking base. It’s like a tiny island with the last few palm trees waiting to be plucked. And I couldn’t help but smile when we got to the end of the romaine heart because it meant that we hadn’t wasted the lettuce. And that’s huge for us.
How have you made strides in reducing waste or making your money go farther with your food?