Depending on which source you listen to we in the Western world throw away between a third and a half of all the food we buy. There are so many reasons why this is shocking.
First and foremost it takes considerable resources to produce the food we buy. Some is shipped half way round the world. Fertilizers are used. Land is cleared to grow crops on. We live on a planet of finite resources so we simply can’t afford to waste them unnecessarily.
Secondly waste food that is thrown away rots down producing a variety of unpleasant chemicals including methane which is one of the most potent greenhouse gases known.
Finally, on a personal level, we are living through a financial recession where people are losing their jobs, whole countries are getting into debt and we’re all trying to reduce our expenses. Yet we’re still throwing out huge volumes of food that we have paid good money for.
I think therefore it makes sense to examine some of the simple ways in which we can reduce the amount of food which is thrown away and so help both our pockets and the environment along the way.
1) Cook From First Principles
Many of the things we throw away include cakes, biscuits and bread that has gone off in one way or another. Maybe it went dry, maybe it got mouldy; maybe it just reached it’s “best before” date and you decided to get rid of it.
But when you consider the individual ingredients that go into food like this – flour, yeast, salt and suchlike they all have a very long shelf-life until they are actually made into the final recipe.
Therefore learning how to bake your own bread, how to make cakes and so on could mean that you only create what you really need and little or none is wasted. While this will take some extra effort initially you will soon have perfected your recipe and will be able to enjoy delicious fresh bread whenever you want it coupled with the knowledge that you are reducing the amount of food that gets wasted each day.
2) Avoid “Ready” Foods Wherever Possible
In a similar vein, chilled ready-meals such as curries or many premade Chinese foods often have a very short shelf life which can result in lots of waste. Whether they go off at your own home or go off in the supermarket, the fewer of these meals we buy, the fewer will be produced and so the less waste there will be.
Remember that some ready meals are also made from poor quality ingredients and use a lot of packaging so by cutting down on your use of these foods you will be winning on a number of fronts.
3) Learn To Preserve Food
Drying, pickling, canning, jam making, freezing and so on can all help you to increase the life of food. For example fruit can be made into jam or frozen and I recently read about someone who freezes their over ripe bananas rather than throwing them away, then puts them into a food processor with some milk to create the ultimate milkshake.
In a similar way buying food that has been prepared in these ways will also extend their shelf life. Buying frozen meat, for example, rather than meat from the chiller can be kept far longer.
4) Grow Your Own Food
If you grow your own food you have the ability to not only harvest only what you need – where many fruits and vegetables will be fine left on the plant for weeks or even months afterwards – but any excess which might go to waste can be given away or swapped with other people who also grow their own food.
Salads are a good example whereby you can pick just one lettuce, some radishes and so on for your dinner and when you need some more you just dig a little more up rather than having it go off in your fridge.
5) Pay Attention To Best Before Dates
If you buy foods with best before dates, try to keep track of these wherever possible. Place the best before dates onto a calendar in the kitchen so you can easily see which foods need to be eaten when and arrange your cooking to accommodate those.
6) Build A Compost Heap
No matter how hard you try it is likely that at least a small amount of food will be wasted so rather than sending it to landfill, why not consider buying a digester and building a compost heap so that you can recycle unwanted food into mineral-rich compost to use on your veggie plot?
7) Get Involved In A Local Food Sharing Initiative
There are a number of charities who collect and distribute unwanted foods from a variety of sources and getting involved in these collectives not only gives you an opportunity to reduce food wastage but also to feed the needy who might otherwise have gone hungry.