We all know about the fact that there is a lot of food being wasted and we all agree that it is a bad thing. But the book has some stunning facts and statistics that got me thinking. In chapter one, the author talks about food waste at every stage from the time the food is produced until it end up in the kitchen- the farm, factories, transport, supermarkets. Chapter two is about why food waste matters- the economic impact, the environmental impact and the ethics. The third chapter describes the irony of food waste when there is so much hunger in the US and around the world; chapter four discusses how food waste mirrors a society that is driven by consumerism and mindless consumption. Chapter five talks about how our insistence on polished perfection in fruits and vegetables leads to so much waste of perfectly nutritious, edible food. Chapter six focuses on restaurant waste.
I am looking forward to reading the rest of the chapters about food waste at home and abut ways to tackle the problem. This book is a must-read for everyone who loves food and hates to see it wasted in such colossal amounts. If you are in the US, your local library probably has a copy.
If we expect any changes in policy on a national and global level, the mindset and action must start at home. Cutting out food waste completely (or as close to 100% as possible) remains a goal for me; I am not there yet.
These are my 12 mantras for cutting down food waste- that I keep chanting to myself. Reading this book made me want to share them with you.
1. Keep the fridge clean and clutter free. Out of sight really is out of mind (and mouth). By knowing where everything is, food is not hidden or forgotten. I have zones in the fridge for prepared food (ready to eat, such as leftovers), dairy and eggs, fruits and vegetables, and for ingredient that need to be used up (half used cans of coconut milk or tomato, or a partial block of cheese, say). Seeing these grouped together triggers the reminder to eat them up.
2. Plan meals. As my tea brews in the morning, I spend 30 seconds glancing at the food I have on hand in the fridge and pantry (and that needs to be used up quickly) and fashioning a menu for the day's dinner. I cannot expect to be too creative during the evening rush when we are already tired and hungry. As a bonus, the morning menu planning makes our evenings run very smoothly because deciding on the menu is half the battle. Instead of saying, "What do you feel like eating?" repeatedly to each other, V and I simply team up and cook dinner in 30 minutes while chatting about our day, with leftovers for lunch the next day.
3. Keep some fridge (and pantry and freezer)- cleaning recipes handy. Soup and stew is a good vehicle for all sorts of ingredients you may want to use up. I also like making mixed-vegetable subzis; they taste unique every time even with the same spices. And just about any leftover bits and bobs can be stuffed into a tortilla with cheese and cooked on a griddle with tasty results. In fact, my made-up meals are the ones that we seem to enjoy the most.
4. Be careful while trying "risky" recipes. This is a tough one for someone like me who gets tremendous joy from trying new things. But it is incredibly wasteful to try a new recipe and throw out the whole thing either because you messed up while making it or because it tasted awful. I try to choose recipes where I can predict that we will like them (and that I can make them properly) but it still happens about once a year. Last month, I tried making a burfi recipe for Diwali and it burned and was awful and had to be trashed :(
5. Consolidate ingredients. The more ingredients you stuff into your kitchen, the higher the likelihood that they will expire or spoil before they are used up, or you will move from that home and trash the lot. After using recipes that called for diced tomatoes, pureed tomatoes, tomato paste and tomato sauce, I now buy only one tomato product- whole canned tomatoes and substitute it for all the other versions. Similarly, buttermilk powder keeps forever in the fridge instead of fresh buttermilk for baked goods and pancakes. If you like cooking from different cuisines, the varieties of oils and rices and spices seem to add up but I try to keep them in check so everything can be used up in a reasonable amount of time.
6. You can always take seconds. Much is said about the "clean plate club" but I would never ever advocate leaving food on a plate in order to watch what one eats. Why not take smaller servings, eat every last bite and serve yourself some more if you are still hungry?
7. Don't overeat. This is another waste of food at the most fundamental level, isn't it?
8. Pause while shopping. The potential for food waste begins the second we buy the food. It is easy to lose control when you are in a food store with its enticing displays, when the word "sale" appears, when food is sold in gigantic bulk quantities that convince you that it is a bargain. But it makes sense to pause right there at the store and really ask- do I need this? Will I use it?
9. Share. When we have friends over for dinner, I hand them empty food containers at the end of the meal and invite them to make themselves a lunch box for the next day. Far from being offended about being offered leftovers, everyone seems to be delighted at taking home extra food and that way it all gets eaten. When we visit friends, they similarly are happy to share leftover food with us. V's colleagues always seem to like it when I send over extra food and baked goods for them.
10. Less than perfect food is still 100% OK to use. You can stir-fry wilted greens and they still taste fine. You can cut the rotting spot off a tomato and still cook the rest. Dried out rice can be revived with a splash of water and a few minutes in a microwave oven or steamer. One has to use common sense and have a working understanding of food safety, but even ingredients that are not shiny and polished like what TV chefs use will result in good eats.
11. Compost as much as possible. If you cook on a regular basis, a large portion of the trash you generate will be in the form of peels and scrapings of fruits and vegetables- and it is tragic if they end up in a landfill instead of returning to the soil as fertilizer by way of composting. I've had mixed success with this one.
I tried the Bokashi method (anaerobic fermentation) and it was a miserable failure (I can't bring myself to talk about it, it was that wretched, let's just say a lot of maggots were involved), most likely because the container I used was not airtight.
However, we have a wonderful community garden nearby and my neighbor happens to be the composting czar there. He has set up large vermicomposting bins there for the community to use (see a pic below). So I collect my kitchen scraps- vegetable peels, stalks, egg shells, tea leaves- in a box in the fridge and go over and dump them in the compost bin every 3-4 days. It has reduced our trash production very significantly. I will never go back to throwing kitchen waste in the garbage destined for the landfill.
12. Be a good role model. I was raised in a home where wasting food was just not the done thing. This had to do with principles and morals, not with any lack of food. All my life, I will rinse out cans of tomato to add to the curry and scrape out the last smidgen of jam with a piece of bread- because it is ingrained into me that this is the right thing to do. Whether we realize it or not, others (especially kids) are watching us and copying our behavior, good or bad.
Do you agree with this list? What would you add to it? What is your own attitude towards food waste?
Edit: Thanks to everyone who wrote thoughtful comments on this post. Here are some of the tips you all shared-
- PleaseDoNotFeedTheAnimals: Make a weekly meal planner the day before you go food shopping.
- Amruta: Shop 2-3 times a week.
- Namita: If you've cooked too much food, freeze the excess.
- Niranjana: Quit the warehouse shopping habit.
- Harini-Jaya: Recycle leftovers into new dishes, like making vegetable cutlets with them.
- Johanna: Get to know the flavors you love so you can focus on them in the kitchen.
- Desiknitter: Add stems and stalks (eg. from spinach and cauliflower) to dal instead of discarding them.
- Sue: Feed veggie scraps to your free range chickens and meat scraps to your dogs!
- Mina: Be grateful for leftovers- it means you have food for a day that has not even dawned yet.
- Miri: Plan meals so you can use up the most perishable vegetables (eg. greens) very quickly after buying them.
- Anusha: Those little packets of ketchup and sugar in restaurants- use them at home or return them as soon as you are seated so they are not wasted.
- Raaga: To keep vegetables from rotting in the crisper, chop them and freeze them while they are still fresh.
- Amruta: Check out Shelf Life Advice to maximize usage while minimizing waste.
- Angela: Have a "Smörgåsbord" night and enjoy a dinner of leftovers where everyone gets a little bit of everything until the fridge is empty.
- Lakshmi: "When we are aware of what we eat, how we cook, and how the food nourishes our body and our soul, we truly respect food and treat it well."
- Caffettiera: Prepare a big pantry-cleaning buffet and invite all your friends!
- Diane: The 5 minute rule to control impulse buying- When something new and exciting catches your eye while shopping for food, put it down and come back to it after finishing your shopping.