A brief, lovely post at The Kitchn offers the following:
Speaking on a panel about the philosophy of Slow Food, [Carlo] Petrini, the movement's founder, exhorted us to "try every day to consume a little bit less." Hand in hand with over-consumption is waste, and we can start to tackle the problem by examining the contents of our own refrigerators. Dig out the "Jurassic Park rabbit" and stash of old parsley (if there's a rotten leaf, just cut that part off), he urged. Cook it, eat it, and share the leftovers with the homeless. Regardless of one's opinion on Petrini and the Slow Food movement, I think waste is something that many of us can pay closer attention to.
Every weekend, I clean out the refrigerator. And every few months I take a look in the pantry to see what's spoiling back there. I'm guilty of over-buying groceries and am guilty of tossing things that look slightly off, or worse, are perfectly good but have passed some kind of internal expiration date in my head.
I'm vowing now to stop. Or try to be better about it.
Teaching myself to cook has involved reading a lot, and a lot of that reading has focused on professional chefs. A well-run restaurant wastes little. A whole chicken might be used for some kind of leg-and-thigh dish (bistro style), a fettuccine alfredo with blackened chicken breast, the wings appetizer, chicken tacos for family meal, and the carcass used for stock (Lifehacker.com provided an excellent link to The Simple Dollar's article detailing just such a process--I'd go with my wife's favorite chicken recipe, however, which involves lemons and garlic in the cavity and an oven roasting to get the skin nice and crispy).
The problem usually isn't with proteins, though. We (my family) use those up (broiled flank steak day one, steak sandwiches with grilled onions on day two). The major problem is vegetables. Our local supermarket chain tends to wrap vegetables in plastic and styrofoam and packages them in portions for...six? Eight? They urge customers to ask for smaller portions, but let's be serious for a second: Who's going to track down the produce guy to ask him for half the packaged asparagus? And he'll just use more packing material re-wrapping the unsold portion.
So I suppose the solution must be two-fold.
First, let's ask for unwrapped vegetables. Supermarkets often claim the wrapped vegetables stay fresher longer as they're not exposed to the open air. This may be the case, but after seeing some of the carrots I've unwrapped, I know they also wrap vegetables to disguise their age. So no more plastic where it's not necessary. If if the only parsnips available are in the little plastic bag? I guess I'm going without.
Second, let's be more mindful in our cooking. The ingredients unused today may (and should) be used tomorrow. This moment, for example, we have green beans, asparagus (yes, the whole package), and zucchini jammed in the crisper. The green beans are being used tonight as a side item for the roasted chicken. The asparagus? The zucchini? I'm not sure. But if I take a moment to plan, to think about the week unfolding before me, I can see the asparagus tossed with pasta on Thursday, the zucchini sauteed and served with steak on Friday, and the remainders of each coupled with ham and eggs in a big, brilliant frittata Saturday morning.
So yes, buy less. Consume less. But also be mindful. Use a menu plan. Part of cooking is figuring out what to do with all the things you think don't belong or what you think you can't use. I might even argue that singular trait is the mark of the best cooks--the most conscientious, the most deserving of our praise.