Food resolutions for 2014 part 3: End food waste

Ahoy there! Here’s part three of my reflections on Food Tank’s food resolutions for 2014.

3. End Food Waste

On ending food waste, Food Tank states:

“More than 1.3 billion tons of edible food is wasted each year. Tips to reduce waste include planning meals ahead, buying ‘ugly’’ fruits and vegetables, being more creative with recipes, requesting smaller portions, composting, and donating excess food.”

I really can get behind this resolution! Despite legitimate concerns for future food security (domestically and globally), at current we – as a species – produce enough food to feed the world. Meanwhile, over eight hundred million people in the world are under-nourished, and even in the wealthy society we have in Australia, over two million people reported struggling with feeding themselves securely in 2011. Between being grown and being consumed, an estimated 50% of food produced is wasted. These staggering figures tell us something is broken in our system.

A mishmash bowl of tasty bits and pieces, including leftovers.

A mishmash bowl of tasty bits and pieces, including leftovers and Food-That-Needs-Eating.

What won’t solve the problem, is packing up our food scraps and express posting them to impoverished nations. And it’s a tall order to expect an individual to solve the crises of food waste and world hunger. But we can make changes at home to lessen our individual (and therefore, cumulative) impact on the food system, as well as the inextricably intertwined human-environment systems.

Containers like these can prolong the freshness of produce kept in the fridge.

Containers like these can prolong the freshness of produce kept in the fridge.

I do feel that food waste can extend beyond wastage of food itself. But we’ll come to that later. First, starting with food.

  • Buy your fresh food regularly, and in small amounts. This will mean that you’re less likely to have a gang of uninspiring week-old vegies shooting guilt beams at you whenever you open the fridge. (Leading to a lessened possibility of transporting this gang of vegies to the bin a few days later.)
  • Get to know your fresh produce and learn the best way to prolong freshness. While it’s a bit embarrassing as I quite dislike the domestic-goddess image promoted by Tupperware, the fridge-storage-containers pictured above help us to get the longest out of the fresh produce we have.
  • Don’t put off eating something special when it’s ripe! I am guilty of often not wanting to scoff a mango straight away out of care for future-Bec and future-Glenn. But this has led to less-than-tasty fruit and veg in the past. So if it’s fresh and ready to be eaten, try to eat it.
  • Begin thinking about fresh produce in terms of edible plants, rather than as food products. And by this, I mean view your broccoli as an edible plant – use the stem in soups, or slice it up for a stir fry along with the florets. When we see fresh produce as food products, it’s easy to view it as the ‘prime bits’ and the ‘off cuts’ (a bit like the treat and the packaging), but the less used parts of edible plants can be just as good as their more famous neighbours. (Make sure you approach this in an informed way, however, you don’t want to good-intention yourself to illness by eating rhubarb leaves.)
  • Be strategic about leftovers. Aim to eat leftover food as a duty to the food, if that approach helps. Yesterday’s leftovers are today’s lunch and so on.
  • Plan ahead and be really nicely organised. Consider keeping a list on the fridge door of what you have inside. You can work with a system where you use magnets or notepads to keep a prioritised eating order for the contents.
  • Consider preserving. Through making jams and chutneys, fermenting, or canning your food you can deal with an oversupply to enjoy later on.
  • Share your excess with your friends and family. If you know you have too much of something, or you’re going away and won’t eat what you have, try to give it to someone who will use it (while it’s still good of course!). Consider taking a bag of tomatoes to work and offering them to your colleagues. Or give a bunch of parsley to your parents (as I did on Sunday) when you’ve got more than you need.
  • Just eat it! Maybe the left-over salad isn’t quite what you want for lunch today. But it is good for you. And if you eat it now while it’s still fresh you won’t have to deal with a container of manky old salad in 5 days time.
  • Try to compost when you can. If food must go to waste – I am picturing a sad cucumber forgotten and slimy in the bottom of the fridge – rather than putting it in the bin, get a compost system going. Even if there is still wastage happening, at least this creates the opportunity for the food to become soil and feed your garden, thereby reducing landfull. (If you live somewhere without the option to compost, as I do, consider gifting your food waste to a friend or family member when you see them. My friend Elise has regularly offered for me to put my food scraps in her compost whenever I visit – just need to remember to do so.)
Watermelon seeds to be dried and, later, grown.

Watermelon seeds to be dried and, later, grown.

This list really could go on forever. But I think it’s also a great time to consider food-related waste. Basically, anything you put in the bin that’s related to the contents of your fridge and pantry. A great exercise is to monitor the items you place into the bin for a week or so (especially think about disposable plastic, as plastic waste is terribly damaging to the environment). During this week, think about the waste you can easily avoid, what is more difficult, and what, perhaps, is something you can’t imagine forgoing. Start with the easy stuff, and it won’t be long until you realise you have new habits.

A couple of beginning steps are to eliminate plastic bags from your grocery runs and ban cling wrap/cling film/ plastic wrap from your kitchen. Many people get bags from the supermarkets for use as bin liners so view this as a necessity. But if you must have bin liners, consider buying biodegradable and compostable bin liners as their environmental impact is significantly less than the standard disposable plastic bags (they aren’t as sturdy as the standard plastic bags, but you can work around that easily enough – carry the bin container with the bag in it, rather than just carrying the bag). An alternative to cling wrap is to make use of reusable containers, or try out these bees’ wax re-usable, natural food storage wraps. I have a set, and they’re just lovely.

Clockwise from top left: Use baskets and cloth bags instead of plastic bags when shopping; re-purpose old sauce  and maple syrup bottles (here, for home made strawberry syrup and kecap manis), and anything else you can scrub up; re-use paper bags, e.g. for storing potatoes that came without their own packaging; buy flours from bulk bins and store in re-usable jars (this flour came in the paper bag the potatoes now inhabit, though many bulk bin stores will allow you to take along your container - just get it weighed first); use cleaned up cream containers for taking snacks of nuts and dried fruit to school, work, the beach, the cinema...; get a set of reusable shopping bags like this 'Green Sack' so that you don't have to use disposables when buying from the bulk bins or in the fresh produce section of where you shop; buy nuts from the bulk bins and store in an old juice bottle; when you end up with some sort of disposable packaging, use it as a small bin bag - this way you don't need to buy bin liners, you don't need plastic bags from the supermarket, and as it's smaller you'll take the rubbish out for more frequently meaning your kitchen is less likely to suffer from resident pests.

Reducing your food-related waste comes easily once you get started.

The photo above demonstrates a few ideas for how you can reduce your food-related waste (clockwise from top left):

  • Use baskets and cloth bags instead of plastic bags when shopping.
  • Re-purpose old sauce  and maple syrup bottles (here, for home made strawberry syrup and kecap manis), and anything else you can scrub up.
  • Re-use paper bags, e.g. for storing potatoes that came without their own packaging.
  • Buy flours from bulk bins and store in re-usable jars (this flour came in the paper bag the potatoes now inhabit, though many bulk bin stores will allow you to take along your container – just get it weighed first).
  • Use cleaned up cream containers for taking snacks of nuts and dried fruit to school, work, the beach, the cinema…
  • Get a set of reusable shopping bags like this ‘Green Sack’ so you don’t have to use disposables when buying from the bulk bins or in the fresh produce section of where you shop.
  • Buy nuts from the bulk bins and store in an old juice bottle.
  • When you end up with some sort of disposable packaging, use it as a small bin bag – this way you don’t need to buy bin liners, you don’t need plastic bags from the supermarket, and as it’s smaller you’ll take the rubbish out for more frequently meaning your kitchen is less likely to suffer from resident pests.

If we all focus on reducing our food waste, and our food-related waste, we won’t immediately solve world hunger and distributional inequality, or fix future food insecurity, but we will be part of a positive change. As with  many things in life, it’s about breaking some habits and replacing them with new ones. Now, I need to take out to the bin the old corn chips packet full of bits and pieces of the past week’s rubbish.

-Bec

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