World Environment Day, the theme being food loss and food waste, got us thinking about practical ways we can reduce the amount of food we throw away. In developing countries the majority of food losses occur at the farm level, particularly during storage, where food is often ‘lost’ after it has been harvested. In the developed world, however, food is most often ‘wasted’ when it is thrown away by retailers and consumers.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation estimated that some 32% of all food produced in the world in 2009 was lost or wasted. The World Resources Institute converted this figure from food weight to food calories and found that some 24% of food is lost or wasted, that’s 1 in 4 food calories that are never consumed. As the Institute points out it is not just a loss of food but a loss of money and a waste of land. $1600 is the value of food thrown away by the average American family each year while 198 million hectares of land (an area almost the size of Mexico) are used to grow this food that is never consumed.
Given that there are around a billion people who are chronically hungry despite there being enough food in the world means tackling food waste and food loss is urgent. But it is a challenge because it is about accessing crop storage technologies, achieving more resilient agricultural production and better market opportunities for poor farmers in developing countries while at the same time changing behaviour and consumption patterns in the developed world.
We’ve scoured the web to find some tips to help us reduce the amount of food waste we generate.
1) Write a list and stick to it. Plan your meals for the week, taking into account the ingredients you already have, write a shopping list for the extras and stick to it. Also don’t shop when you’re hungry to avoid the temptation to impulse buy and don’t fall for marketing tricks.
2) Buy imperfect fruit and vegetables. Many fruits and vegetables are thrown out because their size, shape, or color are not “right”. Buying these perfectly good fruit, at the farmer’s market or elsewhere, utilises food that might otherwise go to waste.
3) Rotate your food items. Bring older items in the fridge and cupboard to the front so you know what you need to use up before it goes off. Keeping your cupboards and fridge organised will also help you to know what food you have in the house. You could use the FIFO (first in first out) rule.
4) Check your fridge. Make sure the seals are good and the temperature is right (between 1 and 5°C).
5) Use up fruit and vegetables. If they are going soft use them in smoothies, pies and soups.
6) Use leftovers. It goes without saying but use leftovers in meals you make tomorrow or save last night’s dinner for today’s lunch. Organising your leftovers by labelling them can also prevent you wondering what the food is and when it is from.
Here are some ideas for using leftovers:
Leftover grains and legumes: Make rice salad, quinoa salad, or fry it up in some butter. Make it fried rice by adding peas, shredded carrots, bits of leftover meats, and tossing with soy sauce or tamari. Add leftover chilled grains or legumes to salads or soups. Make grain patties by adding a little arrowroot powder, an egg, and herbs and spices and fry up in a shallow pan. Mash leftover lentils with Mexican seasoning for a bean dip and/or then fry up in some naturally rendered lard for refried beans. Cooked vegetables can be made into bubble and squeak, a bit of pasta can be tossed with vegetables and some chickpeas for a pasta salad.
Leftover meats: Add to soups, add to sandwiches by making chicken salads, thinly slicing beef, or pork, or shred it and make into taco meat. Shredded chicken can be added to salads, made into chicken curries, chicken pot pie, or used as a tamale stuffing. Sausages could be made into a pasta bake or toad in the hole, a couple of rashers of bacon can be made into an omlette.
Leftover oatmeal or hot cereal can also be made into patties by adding a little rice flour or arrowroot powder and/or an egg with perhaps a bit of sweetener and a dash of cinnamon. Fried up in some healthy coconut oil or butter and then served with pure maple syrup.
7) Portion control. Prepare and cook only what you need if it can still be used in another day’s meal. Serve smaller portions and go back for seconds if needed.
8) Buy only what you need. Loose fruits and vegetables, and meats and cheeses from the deli instead of pre-packaged mean you can buy the amount you need.
9) Freeze food to eat it later. Either when you buy it (freezing portions of meat or bread etc) or when you cook it (stews, soups etc) so you can use it later and it last longer. For information on freezing bread, vegetables, and herbs, see this article on curbing food waste.
10) Alternatively dry it, can it, pickle it or salt it. Dehydration reduces water content, which inhibits the growth of bacteria, yeasts, and molds. Canning removes oxygen, destroys enzymes, and prevents the growth of undesirable bacteria in food.. Pickling is the centuries-old process of preserving food by storing it in salt brine or vinegar, the growth of “good” microorganisms is encouraged and that of spoilage-causing microorganisms prevented. The process of salting meat draws out moisture through osmosis, retarding the lifespan of microorganisms and extending the lifespan of the food. Further details on drying, canning, pickling and salting can be found here.
11) Compost it. When food waste is unavoidable put fruit and vegetable scraps in a compost bin in the garden (if you have one) to use it on your plants or use a kitchen composter such as a Bokashi bin for cooked food waste.
12) Take note of what you throw away. Writing down what you throw away in a week can help you manage your shopping list and change your buying habits i.e. freeze half your loaf of bread if you regularly throw half away.
13) Understand expiration dates. In the US sell-by and use-by dates are generated by the manufacturer as suggestions for peak quality. In the UK the important date is the use-by date that indicates when food is safe to consume.
14) Donate. Non-perishable and unspoiled perishable food can be donated to local food banks, soup kitchens, churches, community organisations and shelters. Local and national programmes may offer free pick-up and provide reusable containers to donors.
These tips were compiled from the following sources: