My grandfather grew up in the depression. He lived through WWII. Before that though, he grew up dirt poor. I have a photo of him around the age of three in a flour sack shirt dress. My great grandmother, Louisa, sits with her large farmer's hand around him. She is in a dress that could have been stitched together with several flour sacks as well. At his funeral three years ago, stories of how he would not waste anything circulated freely. My cousin told me that after pouring the sugar into the canister, he carefully took the bag apart and made sure that little grain of sugar made it into the sugar jar. Grandpa made his living as a welder, as a union man, he made good money. He always kept vegetable gardens and rabbits on his city lot which helped save on the grocery expenses. When he retired, he still when around on his bike everyday looking for aluminum cans to pay his electric bill. He was a self made man with close to a million dollars in the bank upon his death, but he still wore hand-me-down clothes that his neighbors gave him. That man wasted nothing.
His lessons sit at the forefront of my life. I think of him every time I am in the kitchen and something has gone bad. I don't like throwing food away in any way, shape or form. If a leftover containing animal products sat a little too long in the fridge, I give it to the dog or cats. If it is purely plant product of some type like vegetables, fruits, or grains, I send it to the compost as many many gardeners and people practicing permaculture do.
I haven't decided though if I am wasting when it comes to peeling vegetables. My son wondered who I peeled the carrots. It was a good question. The "skin" is completely edible. I take the outer part of the kohlrabi though I have read it is edible too. The Tassajara Cookbook says that the skins of beets are edible, but I peel them anyway. Is this wasting? Did grandpa peel his vegetables?
I peel vegetables for aesthetic reasons, but as I do so, I feel that I am giving a little back to Mother Earth. When I pluck my vegetables from the great Earth, who was so kind to provide the nutrients to grow the food, I also want to give something back. In this manner, She provides as long as I continue to give back through composting parts of the foods that She helped me grow. The soil is alive as a part of Earth. A part of my energy comes from Her. I want to thank Her and to keep Her nourished as well.
So is it wasteful? Is it frivolous? We can only decide for ourselves. Maybe in some folks eyes, but I see it as practice of taking and giving (back).