Food Waste or Fritattas?

NY Times best-selling author Amy Stewart fights climate disruption by feeding leftovers to her backyard hens.

Holidays are often built around food. And there’s always some leftover. When I ask the waiter for a to-go box and say, “If I don’t eat it, our chickens will,” they’re happy to hear that nothing goes to waste. Our hens — Buttercup, Domenica, Mezza Luna, Carbonara and Gelato — leap over each other to clean up leftover bread crusts, potato skins and pasta from fine restaurants. My wife, Chris, then turns their glorious eggs into lemon custard, quiche and birthday cakes.

Throughout the year, our hens also like all the kitchen scraps we give them (with the exception of avocados, which are toxic). They attack cereal crumbs, overripe cucumbers, carrot tops, corncobs and more. Another chicken favorite is leftover cooking oils and fats; common ingredients for commercial pet food. We let fats set up in the fridge overnight and feed them to the hens the next morning. They think it’s pudding. It disappears fast. Remember that chickens are not vegetarians (nor are they egalitarians, feminists or pacifists, but that’s grist for another story). They like meat, including gristle, tendons and fat. They will devour shrimp shells whole and pick bones clean, leaving nothing to attract vermin. Nothing.

But we don’t feed them chicken scraps. That would be weird.

I first became serious about bringing home leftovers to save money on feed. But it’s not just our budget that benefits. And you don’t even have to own chickens to see your food waste turned into frittatas.

And that could be a lot of frittatas. Food waste comprises about 13% of America’s trash. Which probably costs your city $40 a ton or more to send to a landfill. And it’s carried by garbage trucks that get as little as 3 miles per gallon (not a typo). At home each American tosses about 20 pounds of wasted food every month. So most readers generate more than their weight in food waste every year. That’s almost half a ton annually for a family of four. A big share of that probably comes during the holidays. So every time you throw away food you’re creating upward pressure on your own tax bill. Putting food scraps and oils down the drain isn’t any better. To avoid fish kills, sewer plants extract all that organic matter from the water supply and still it goes to a landfill. At your expense

Food waste bites you in another way. Table scraps that go to the landfill decompose into methane gas. Methane’s 25 times worse than CO2 for causing climate disruption.

But you don’t have to own chickens to help solve these problems. Check on neighborhood list serves, Facebook, Meetup or Craigslist to find local hen keepers. You and your kids or grandkids might enjoy swapping your holiday leftovers for some of the best eggs you’ll ever eat.

And it doesn’t have to be a daily thing either. Pop food scraps — apple cores, wilted produce, stale chips — into the fridge until you’re ready for a swap.

We have neighbors who drop off hen treats in exchange for a few eggs from the nest box. The pace really picks up come holiday season. Our hens get seedy pumpkin guts before Halloween. Later, it’s the whole smirking pumpkin. After Thanksgiving they won’t turn up their beaks at some in-law’s less popular dishes. By Christmas and New Year’s any food our neighbors are sick of seeing in the house (which may include that fossil of a fruit cake) gets a celebratory reception in our chicken run.

Were there chickens in the manger? Or at the first Thanksgiving? I don’t know. But dialing down taxes and climate disruption by boosting the laying of eggs are pretty tasty reasons to make hens part of your holiday tradition now.

Frank Hyman is a former city council member in Durham, NC and is the author of Hentopia: Create Hassle-Free Habitat for Happy Chickens; 21 Innovative Projects.

NY Times best-selling author Amy Stewart feeding her backyard hens.

Former city councilman, organizer, campaign manager. Author of a living wage ordinance. My essays: NYT, WSJ, dozens of newspapers. www.bluecollarcomeback.com.