Food waste is a major problem, with nearly half of all fruit and vegetables produced going to waste. Not only is that a huge waste of water, carbon emissions and energy, but with many people suffering from malnutrition or impoverished diets, it is also a moral failing on behalf of the whole food system.
We can do a lot to minimise food waste, however. Learn these tips and use them at home. You’ll see that it is possible to virtually eliminate food waste from your kitchen.
Planning what you are going to eat throughout the week is probably the one thing you can do to reduce food waste in your home that will have the biggest impact. So many of us go shopping with only a rough idea of the food we want to prepare, and as a result buy too much of certain ingredients that can often end up in the bin. So make a plan for what you are going to eat, day-by-day, be mindful of how much of the ingredients you need, and shop accordingly.
It is helpful to think like a chef when meal planning, so use a meal-planning template and consider that wasted food will have a huge impact on your yearly household budget. Consider cooking in batches – soups, stews and leftovers will usually freeze very well and save you time in the future. Remember to do a stocktake before you go shopping. Take an audit of your fridge and your freezer, and see what you have, then make a list and stick to it as much as you can. Remember to eat before you go, as shopping on an empty stomach will lead you to impulse buys that you hadn’t bargained for and may tempt you to buy unhealthy snack food as well.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, around 14% of food produced globally is lost between harvest and retail. Significant quantities are also wasted in retail and at the consumption level. In the case of fruits and vegetables, more than 20% is lost. So the more you can cut out intermediary steps in the food system, the better for the planet, the producers and your pocket. By trying to develop relationships with local producers, you will ensure that you have better quality, fresher ingredients, making your meals healthier more delicious. Farmers' markets are a great way to start, and by meeting the producers face to face and getting to know them, you can pick up tips on how to cook ingredients and conserve them. Nobody knows ingredients better than your local producer so get to know them and ask plenty of questions.
Think Inside the Box
If there are no farmers' markets nearby, look at food box services that will deliver fresh, seasonal ingredients right to your door. Whether you are vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian or a full-on meat eater, there is a food box service to suit you. Knowing exactly what is coming to your pantry will allow you to plan your meals and research the best recipes for making the most out of them. Food subscription services are a great way to change the way you eat and ensure the right kind of ingredients are arriving at your door regularly. There are even gourmet subscription services from some of the world’s best chefs.
Get into Your Freezer
Cooking in batches and freezing what you don’t eat is another good way to reduce food waste. Soups, stews and casseroles freeze very well, as will almost all meats, fish and poultry. Foods that do not freeze particularly well include cabbage, celery, cucumber and radishes. Left over pasta and rice does not freeze well and is better eaten the day after it is cooked.
You can use the ends of fruits and vegetables to grow new plants that will in turn provide you with new fruit and vegetables. Potato peels, carrot tops, onions, garlic, leeks… anything that grows in the ground can be sprouted and replanted. You don’t even need a garden as it’s perfectly simple to grow vegetables in window boxes and plant pots. See this useful infographic for 16 fruits and vegetables you can regrow at home.
Composting is one of the oldest and best ways to reduce food waste, so learn how to do it properly and you’ll be able to turn your food scraps and leftovers into highly nutritious biomass for your soil. Your fruit, vegetable and herb plants will thrive with the nutrition you provide. By composting and re-growing your food, you create your own mini-circular sustainable food system.
Composting is an art, however, and you need to do the research to make it work. Invest in a composter, there are generally three types - continuous composters, batch composters, indoor composters/worm bins. Continuous composters allow you to add food waste continuously to yield compost two to three times a year. A batch composter keeps the contents warm and allows you to turn it regularly, which accelerates the composting process. If you don’t have a garden there are alternative indoor composters and worm bins, which use worms to break down your food waste. Here's a useful infographic on what to compost.
Learn from the Best
Fine Dining Lovers’ Why Waste? series with Massimo Bottura shows you how to turn your leftover waste into delicious food. With help from his team from his Osteria Francescana, Franschetta 58 and Casa Maria Luigia in Modena take us through masterclasses on how to handle leftovers, vegetables, fruit, meat, bread and dairy.
Pickling and Brining
Pickling and brining are two ancient methods of food preservation that were developed to reduce food waste and allow people to eat produce out of season. Pickling takes place in two ways, through the anaerobic fermentation in brine or through immersion in vinegar and just about any vegetable and some fruits can be pickled. You’ll have a pantry full of jars of unusual and interesting flavours at hand for use in so many ways. Pickled foods are great for your gut health and internal flora, and eating them can help improve your immune system, which is good news too.
Another ancient food preservation method is also the key to unlocking a whole world of new and complex flavours found at the world’s best restaurants. All the necessary cultures are available to easily purchase online so you can turn your kitchen into a fermentation lab. For those looking to really go down a fermentation rabbit hole, then get yourself the Noma Guide to Fermentation, which shares all the knowledge compiled by Noma's fermentation lab over the last 15 years.
Go Vegan and Eat Ugly
So much food waste happens further upstream in the food system. Meat production requires a lot of water and causes high carbon emissions, so reducing it or, even better, quitting it all together is going to benefit the environment. Fruit and vegetables are eaten in their entirety, and so they yield less food waste. It’s important to eat ugly too, so wherever you buy your vegetables, choose the blemished and misshapen pieces as they usually end up leftover in the store every day and get thrown away.