We can all remember family mealtimes as children in which we were implored to finish every bite on our plates, because there were “starving children in Africa who would be grateful for the food”.
Many of us, from a young age were therefore indoctrinated with the notion that we should feel guilty for wasting food when there were many millions of others who had none at all. It’s something that still goes on in many households today.
Here’s a statistic that is very sobering, and which validates the pleas of parents up and down the country. During the course of one year, the amount of food waste which is produced globally is actually enough to feed almost one billion people who have no proper food or nutrition due to poverty and other living circumstances.
It’s easy to let guilt take over and to feel helpless, but in actual fact, cutting back on the amount of food that gets wasted is much simpler than you think.
Food Loss or Food Waste?
First, a few words about how food waste is defined. Experts talk about food waste and food loss as different concepts.
This happens when food is disposed of or has somehow experienced a decrease in quality while it has been processed. It will be destroyed before it hits grocery store shelves, so cannot be consumed by humans. This is more of an issue in developing countries.
This tends to happen more in developed countries such as the USA or the UK. It refers to a situation in which food that has made it to the end of the food chain but hasn’t been consumed. It’s estimated that about one third of all food produced for human consumption is either lost or wasted. This equates to just over a billion tons of food every year that could go towards feeding people who have nothing.
Some sources state that in the USA alone, forty percent of their entire food supply is wasted every year. This means that food waste is one of the biggest makers of ‘solid waste’ in American landfills.
It isn’t just food that gets wasted. It’s money too. Some estimates suggest that up to $165 billion is lost annually. There is also the growing issue of all the resources used to deal with the food that is thrown away. Wasted food creates greenhouse gases, and wastes water and other land resources. In recent years, the UN has set up a global campaign called ‘Think Eat Save’, which is dedicated to combating food wasted by consumers, retailers, and the hospitality industry.
As individuals, what can we do to help ourselves and help others? There are many small changes we can make that will create a big difference to the amount of food we waste. Here’s a selection of tips that will really help.
Food Waste and Grocery Shopping
Be a smart planner. It’s amazing how little things like planning a week’s meals in advance can make a difference to what you buy and how you shop. It also helps you to avoid impulse buying and means you know that what you do buy, WILL be consumed. Only buy food stuffs you know you have a definite plan for and only replace perishable foods once they have been used up.
If you’re planning this way, you will only buy what you need. Say, for example that on Monday night you’re going to cook a casserole and you need two carrots for it. However, you’ve planned the rest of your week’s meals and you know you won’t need carrots again. Just buy two carrots and not a whole bag full! Buy loose, buy cheaper. This stands for a lot of cooking ingredients such as grains, nuts, and spices. Buying from bulk bins means you’ll measure out what you need and won’t over buy. It will also save you money too.
Buy the unloved stuff that everyone else has avoided at the store! By this we mean the fruits and veggies that are a weird shape or might not look quite right even though they’re perfectly fine to eat. Sometimes they’re sold cheaper, and it prevents them from being thrown away when there’s nothing wrong with them!
Always have a back-up plan for food. For example, say you’re having friends over for dinner and have bought a wedge of special cheese that was going to be part of some fancy dish. Then, the dinner party gets called off and you’re left with cheese that needs using up as it’s going out of date. Don’t throw it away, have a back-up recipe that will suit a family meal instead. That way no food, or money is wasted and…well…cheese…mmm.
Food Waste in the Kitchen
Learn proper stock cupboard and fridge rotation. When you’re home from the grocery store, and unpacking shopping, move older products to the front of the fridge/freezer and put new products to the back. That way, you will use everything up in an orderly fashion.
Take one week and for those seven days, thoroughly moderate what you’re throwing away and when. If you’re getting rid of a few apples as they’re past their best or tossing half a loaf of bread into the food waste, think about slicing and freezing some of the bread so it can be used for toast and stewing down the fruit to freeze so it can be put into a dessert at a later date.
Plan your meals around the things in your cupboard that are going to expire soonest and use those in your cooking before buying anything fresh. Keep a note of what is in your freezer and when it was frozen. Put this on your freezer door for reference, to help with meal planning. For instance, if you bought a piece of brisket three months ago, make this the week to take it out, thaw it and turn it into a pot roast with the couple of carrots and onions you have in your veggie drawer!
Have one lunch/dinner a week that is a use-up meal. So, instead of cooking from scratch, check your fridge and cupboards out to see what really needs using up and…do just that. It can be surprising how tasty new food combinations that become regular staples are put together in this way!
Don’t simply throw away leftovers (unless everyone hated the soup/stew/cake you made). Put them into containers and for easy go-to lunches the next day. If you can’t face them then, put them into labelled, dated containers in the freezer and use these on your ‘use-up’ meal days.
If it’s possible to leave peels/skins/stalks on food (think potatoes, zucchini, broccoli etc) then do it, use the entire vegetable. You’ll save time, money and also get extra nutrients.
Store your food in better ways. For instance, if you know you’re regularly throwing away lots of biscuits, crackers or chips, store them in air tight containers to keep them fresher for longer.
Use leftover scraps. Just as we’re encouraging you to not peel fruits and veggies if they don’t need it, if there ARE scraps, repurpose these too. Meat scraps can be put into homemade stock or soup, as can veg peelings.
Fruits and veggies that are a little wilted do still have nutritional value and shouldn’t be thrown away. Use fruits in juices, smoothies and cooked desserts like crumbles and cobbler. Veggies can be casseroled or put into soups or blanched and frozen.
Be honest. Look in your store cupboard and clear it out. If there is food well within its use-by date that you know won’t get used up, donate it to a good cause and find a charity or food bank near you that will take it.
Food scraps that simply can’t be consumed by humans will happily be consumed by farm animals! Some farmers will take food scraps to either add to a compost heap or feed to their cattle and pigs. Find a local farm and enquire.
Store your food in the right places in the fridge and freezer. Often, drawers and shelves are labeled with what should go where. Take heed of these and use the appliances as they should be used. Meat should always go on the bottom shelf, produce always in the produce drawer etc.
Got lots of fresh summer fruit that is on the turn? Preserve it, jam it or freeze it for winter. Same with veggies, look up recipes for pickling different veggies to keep them good for a few months (and to provide tasty and nutritious accompaniments to meals)
Food Waste at the Table
Cleaning your plate every meal is all very well and good if you are actually hungry. If you’re not, then don’t. Listen to the signals your tummy gives you. If you’re super hungry, eat enough to fill you up but no more.
You should always walk away from the dining table feeling satiated, but not full to bursting. Start with less food on your plate and have seconds if you really want them. Simply reducing portion size is one way to reduce food waste and also note if you’re overbuying/cooking too much food generally.
If you’re eating out, either split dishes between friends and family, or ask for a brown bag to take any remains home in – free lunch the next day!
If you’ve made a meal that no-one was keen on – perhaps a curry, soup or stew, don’t simply throw it away. If it can’t be salvaged in some way, maybe other family members would like to try it and take it off your hands.
An elderly neighbor or friend may well be appreciative of some home cooked food that would otherwise go to waste. You don’t have to tell the person you’re giving it to that you hated it…
Finally, simply be aware! Just knowing about food waste is sometimes enough to make you check what you and your family are buying and eating on a weekly basis. Thinking about how much you spend and how much you throw away can often be enough to jolt you into action to make sure there is less waste in your home. Adopting some, or all of the tips in this article is a sure fire way to make sure you become more savvy about the food you buy and eat on a weekly basis.