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Fear of waste stymies creativity

It is often said that a component of creativity is not fearing failure. However, when ingrained in one's psyche is the fact that waste of food (failure) creates want or hunger, how does one overcome this sufficiently to reach more creative potential, particularly in food and cooking?

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  1. Perhaps you need to think about this another way-by not throwing out (wasting) food, one is forced to be more creative in using it. Instead of doing the same old thing with that piece of food, one is forced to try something different so it is not a leftover but is instead a new and exciting item.

    11 Replies
    1. re: carbondiamond

      I agree with carbondiamond. The desire not to waste makes us more creative with spare parts, leftovers, or whatever is available at that moment. As a gardener, I see it a lot with items that would otherwise end up in the compost bin. Garlic scapes make great pesto, radish tops make an awesome soup, and zucchini blossoms are delicious fried.

      1. re: carbondiamond

        i think what WC means though is taking a perfectly good piece of food and trying a new recipe with it. if it turns out poorly and you have to throw it out (because it is gross) then that food is essentially wasted.

        WC: the way i look at it is, in the kitchen there are wins and losses. in order to taste the deliciousness of the wins, sometimes you have to deal with eating the stuff that doesnt turn out too! i just view having to suffer through a failure every now and then as part of the sacrifice of learning to cook.

        1. re: mattstolz

          I can only think of one time I've thrown food away because of a bad experiment (first time using asafoetida). The amount of food I've salvaged from the garbage or compost bin due to creativity greatly outweighs the amount I've lost, but I'm also quite obsessive about not wasting anything. A failed experiment can often be salvaged.

          1. re: mattstolz

            I've finally decided to make a new recipe (or new creative experiment) in quite small quantities initially. That way, if it's a flop, at least it's less waste. If it's a hit, gets made in a multiple amounts next time around.

            1. re: mattstolz

              That's why some people get a dog: a creature dedicated to happily consuming all your kitchen blunders.

              Or, from another perspective, how sad to let fear of failure keep you from trying something new.

              1. re: 512window

                Joke, right? I never give my dog kitchen/dinner scraps. Yes, they will happily eat it up, but will also happily crap it out, too, in unexpected places.
                Or barf.
                Or get really sick.

                1. re: wyogal

                  Or get fat and develop health problems

                2. re: 512window

                  most of my failed experiments are far too spicy to give to my dog. would mean stomachaches galore for the poor girl!

                  1. re: 512window

                    That's why I keep the bf around, he'll eat anything, even the attempt at caramelised chicken for a caribbean stew which ended up horribly burnt.

                    That's the only experiment that has ever been inedible (for me). What's the worst that can happen? If you have an understanding of the flavours you like and and idea of how the dish might taste based on your experience, you're unlikely to cook anything you actively dislike to the point you can't eat it. You might have to eat something so-so sometimes, or choke down something overcooked, or eat a souffle that hasn't risen, or a cake that's a bit stodgy, but you can still eat it, and you'll know for next time.

                3. re: carbondiamond

                  I agree too. I jumped onto the do not waste train this week and the creativity sparked in my meals has been amazing. I don't just pull out the leftover and eat it. I mix things together. I found a butternut squash ravioli buried in my freezer last night. I knew I was having some sort of shrimp pasta to use up a few veggies in the fridge and I threw it all in there. It was wonderful This not wasting food thing have been wonderful. I feel like I'm no longer in that slump I've been in for the last few years.

                4. The first dinner I made for my family (when I was barely a teen), was an awful tuna casserole. Did we eat it, yes. Did they want seconds, no. The amount wasted wasn't much, but the family would not have dreamed of having something else for dinner. In our house, you ate what was put in front of you, failure or not.
                  In cooking school, I had a very difficult time throwing food away. They wasted an enormous amount of food, IMO. I would bring my dishes home in leftover containers, but to see plate after plate just discarded after it was presented to chef, was sickening. (as were other practices there, but that is another story)

                  1. I'll experiment like mad, but I'll never throw anything out unless it's really, truly inedible. I don't mean merely awful, I mean if I eat it I'd better call an ambulance. If the stuff is just kinda awful, or nobody likes it at all but me, I will eat it myself and not serve it again. This attitude has taught me very well to learn how to avoid awful results, and it's been decades since that has happened. Dishes that simply don't work right, such as a gratin I made that tasted very good but came out more like soup than scalloped potatoes, I'll rescue however I can and waste as little as possible. In that case, I just ladled off most of the cream, which I saved for another use.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Will Owen

                      On the subject of repurposing, I might have told this story before but here we go again: I had a housemate at university who made a beef curry that he didn't care for, so he ran the pieces of meat under the tap to rinse off the sauce, and put the meat on a pizza instead. Ate it all up. Some might call that a failed experiment but he still got dinner!

                      1. re: gembellina

                        love this story! done something similar myself, a few times...

                    2. Just the opposite for me. Fear of waste has made me very creative with leftovers

                        1. re: beevod

                          i think this is a very rational fear. especially depending how one grew up

                        2. OK, so I see the two points of view. Jeebs, I have embraced the creativity in not wasting what I already have, as in leftovers, radish tops etc, and that is where I've certainly felt most comfortable experimenting. And I usually wouldn't throw something away unless it is truly inedible as with the Great Szechuan Peppercorn Debacle of '05. But as Mattstolz said, there is a lot of hesitation in making the investment into something exotic that might be ruined.Some of my siblings and I joke about "living through the Depression". Maybe mentally budgeting a low risk, inexpensive meal to counter the potential lost meal.

                          1. Don't follow recipes. The worst experimental results are when one follows recipes blindly, even when one feels a sense of doubt.