Freelance food writer and recipe developer Lee Majhen-Todd discusses why eradicating food waste in our homes is so important and shares some simple tips to show how you can help.
April 29th is special for two things.
Firstly, it’s my birthday, and secondly, it’s Stop Food Waste Day. It’s the second and most important one that I want to chat about.
You may be surprised to find out that the majority of food waste doesn’t come from the places you’d suspect. Our homes are liable for much more of the global food waste taken to landfills than supermarkets or restaurants.
Food waste is something that comes up again and again with regularity in the media, and so it should. Now more than ever with COVID-19, isolation and shopping only for essential ingredients, paying attention to and reducing food waste is something I feel will help. It’s such an important subject, my personal feeling is that it should always be in our minds from planning a meal to disposing of it.
This is a paired down version of writing. To read the complete article, find lots of tips to help cut down on food waste, which foods to store and how best bits of the food to freeze and which parts of foods usually thrown into the dump are edible, lots of friendly recipes, and more besides click over to Lee & The Sweet Life at www.leeandthesweetlife.com
Just like giving up smoking, something I did many years ago, a good way of cutting down on food waste is to do it in manageable stages. As with giving up anything that’s not good for us, making it less overwhelming and taking small steps to begin a new way of looking at food is the best way to start.
That’s exactly what it means to stop wasting food, and it’s about changing the way we all live, shop, cook, think about food and passing all this onto our children, our friends and the rest of our family.
Too much? I don’t mean to sound as though I’m preaching, I don’t mean to do that, but I believe that unless we all pay attention to our food waste, and sooner rather than later, the only way is down.
While researching for this piece, I was so shocked with some of the statistics I found I had to go back and check again and again.
Do the following facts shock you too? Surprisingly, in most developing countries, 1/3 of all the food produced goes to waste.nThat is 10.7 million tonnes worth of food waste, per year. That sounded a lot to me, but I needed to see this data in a form that was more practical for me to digest. So I looked for more information and found that the 10.7 tonnes converted into a waste of £730 - £840 per average family of four in the UK and $2,275 in the USA. Together this adds up to a whopping £15 Billion per year of food waste from homes. I didn’t believe it either.
Just think what we could do with that much money. NHS, Cancer research, educating our children or lots of chocolate or gin. Most of us who like food, like to cook and definitely like to eat, are aware of where we get our food. Whether you’re a Marks & Spencer shopper or an Aldi shopper, we all read the labels and know if our food is local to us or shipped from overseas.
What happens when the waste food leaves our homes and hits the landfill is something most of us pay little attention to, yet it’s crucial to why we all need to be aware of how we use our food now and in the future. Even more, facts that wowed me.
According to Which Food, food waste causes as much change to our planet as plastic waste, for example, the energy needed to produce, the water footprint etc.
It produces greenhouse gases too. Initially, when we take our food waste bins out to the street to be disposed of, to be dumped into landfills, the everyday food such as our banana skins, tea bags coffee grounds, chicken bones, carrot peelings and leftover cooked food waste, is pretty harmless. Unfortunately, after a time, it starts to break down, and bad things begin to happen.
When breaking down, it produces greenhouse gases 25 times more harmful to the planet than carbon dioxide. This equates to approximately 20 million tonnes of greenhouse gases. If we think about this in relation to cars on our roads, this is the equivalent to 3.5 million additional cars.
All the noise we make trying to get cars off the road is very noble,
buying electric cars or cars that use unleaded petrol so that we can make our environments better for us, for the next generation and our planet, and we shouldn’t stop doing that.
However, food waste from our homes is something individuals can do to preserve our planet on an even more day to day personal level. Making households more aware and educated about the problem leaves us all to be more accountable for what is thrown in the bin each day.
But what about shops, restaurants, manufacturing concerning food waste?
Take a look at this pretty pie chart the lovey Mr G made for me.
Now that’s a bit of surprise, isn’t it? Something else that surprised me was the type of food we threw away every day.
Seeing, rather than reading, the numbers brought home to me the idea that I have to hold myself accountable, my home and the people who live in it.
Before I give you some tips, there is just one more piece of information I’d like to mention. It is estimated that by the year 2050, there will be an extra 2.3 billion people on this planet. To feed everyone, we will have to increase the production of food by 60-70%. That is if we don’t start to think about food differently.
Here is what I think needs to happen for us all to be able to reduce the food waste from our homes.
Just my opinion, but I think we all need to think differently about food in 5 ways:
How we buy our food?
When we buy our food?
How we store our food?
How we cook our food?
Change what we class as food waste
Let’s start with how we buy our food.
My first tip would be to start a food list and plan the meals you want to make for the coming week, writing down all the ingredients you need including items for lunch boxes and snacks. Keep track of the store cupboard ingredients you’ve already got such as flour, salt, dried herbs, tinned tomatoes etc. This way you won’t overbuy duplicate.
Try to buy long-lasting items when you make the trip for your “big” shop, things such as tinned vegetable, baked beans, gravy granules and mustard, also look at freezable items. Save the fresh items to buy from your local shops on a daily or twice a week shop, and only in the quantities you need.
There is no need to buy a dozen bananas which you know will be going off before you get around to eating them when you can buy less and enjoy them fresh and ripe. You are killing two birds with one stone, cutting down on food waste and supporting your local community by helping small businesses.
When we buy our food?
I’ve mentioned the freezer so let’s chat freezer. The term “Freeze now, use later” should become our mantra. I’m placing a bet that there are ice cubes, ice cream and frozen peas rolling around in there, and if you’re like me and can’t make a good Yorkshire pudding no matter which recipe I try, a bag of Aunt Bessie’s.
Most foods can be frozen, including butter, cheese, eggs, fruit, veg and bread. Don’t forget all that milk we’re overbuying. One of the essential ways of paying attention to when we buy our food is to understand the difference between use by and best before dates.
The use-by date is about safety and means that food isn’t perceived to be safe to eat after this date. But the best before date is just that. It’s about the quality of the food and is perfectly safe to eat after this date.
You’ve seen that little huddle (usually me) around the spot in the supermarket that has all of those best before reduced meats and veg’?
Those are perfect to buy and stock up your freezer.
Also, food doesn’t have to be frozen on the day of purchase, just remember the use-by date. When was the last time you checked the temperature of your fridge? Probably when you first turned it on straight after delivery like the rest of us. For best storage, fridge temperatures should be between 0-5c. The correct temperature and a few tips can get you on the road to changing the way you store food in the fridge.
For instance, for longer life, most fruit and veg can be kept in the fridge. There are a few exceptions such as potatoes, onions and bananas. With potatoes, refrigeration increases the amount of sugar they contain, not something recommended. Onions absorb moisture quickly, so in the fridge, they might become mushy and go off quicker.
Before putting items in the fridge, take them out of the plastic wrapping.
With it on, moisture builds up inside the bag and food will go mouldy quicker than if stored open.
Change number four, how we cook our food, is something that I’m passionate about, and my whole cooking ethos is based around easy satisfying and fun cooking. I’m a massive believer in the nose to tail or carrot tops to roots kind of cooking.
I know this isn’t for everyone, but to keep food waste down, we have to think about how to cook our food differently, more creatively and understand what we can eat and what we shouldn’t.
The first change is to learn to cook. Cooking in the home, for the family is easier than it’s sometimes made out to be. What used to be something our parents and grandparent did every day for every meal without relying on recipes, has now become something that’s seen as an art rather than as a necessity.
One of my greatest pleasures is going to great restaurants to eat great food, and I’m lucky enough to have been to some fantastic Michelin star restaurants with some great chefs. That’s not the sort of cooking I’m referring to. I’m talking about the kind of food that is tasty, has variety and gets us all sitting around the table chatting about our day.
This sort of cooking, cooking from scratch, has somehow become “scary” instead of normal, and it shouldn’t be. If cooking from scratch is new to you, the easiest way to start is to find the recipes that suit you, your family, your lifestyle and begin your recipe collection.
Collect recipes you like, add them to your recipe books, cut out and paste pictures if you like. Avoid meals and websites that advocate a thousand ingredients for the dish before you can even begin. Too many ingredients in a recipe mean you’re more likely to be left with a lot of ingredients you won’t need again, leading to more waste.
Good food doesn’t have to be complicated.
Learning to cook also means learning how to cook with leftovers. Dedicating one of your new recipe books entirely to dishes you can make from leftovers from your family’s favourite meals, means you’ll throw away less food and save money too.
Using ingredients in new ways is something to think about. Who said that lettuce was just for salads? Use them cooked in a stir fry. The last point in my five-point plan to take over the world, otherwise known as reducing food waste on my birthday is, to reassess and change what we traditionally think of as food waste. I guess this also pairs with the learning to cook point but rethinking what we class as waste is what stopping food waste in all about.
For instance, the leaves of a lot of vegetables are edible, so why as a society, don’t we use them in our cooking? I’m not a food historian, so I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer this question, only to say that one of my most hated phrases springs to mind. We do it like this because we’ve always done it like this.
Let’s start to change that and begin using parts of our food that have customarily been referred to as waste, and begin to call it food instead.
Leaves, leaves and more leaves than you probably realise, and certainly more than are seen as food in supermarkets, are edible. The leaves of green beans, beetroot, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, celery, sweetcorn, pumpkin and sweet potato are all edible.
We eat cabbage without blinking an eye, so why not the leaves of these plants? As well as cooking with them and using them in salads, use them to make things such as pesto or a stir fry with a difference.
If this isn’t for you, find a gardening society or a farm near you, and give them all to feed animals, or for an allotment for compost to help grow the next crop.
Surprisingly when I asked the lovely Mr G to name some food we wasted, tea and coffee grounds were nowhere on his list. I’m guessing if I asked you the same, you’d probably overlook them too.
In Britain, we drink 165 million cups of tea a day, with an estimated 70 million cups of coffee a day. Teabags and coffee grounds are great for compost, and with that many cups drunk each day, that’s a lot of compost. By thinking creatively and not being restricted by what and how we cook, can make a huge difference to stop food waste.
I try very hard to post recipes that people will like to eat and cook for themselves, but I’m always aware of how many ingredients I use too.
At the end of the recipes, in the Tip Box, there is often a way of using up any leftover ingredients, and most of the dishes can be frozen.
My way of cooking and cutting down on food waste isn’t new to me, I suspect its mostly down to how I was raised, not a lot of money, four children and parents with very little income. My parents saw creative cooking as a necessity, not a new and trendy way of cooking.
Stop food waste day is a day to begin to think about food differently. Right now, with the world tipped on its head, it could be the perfect time to change what we think of as food waste.
Chatting Food Contributor: Lee Majhen-Todd
Born in Wallsend, Newcastle to a Geordie mother and Croatian father, I have lived all over the world including Belgium and Cincinnati, Ohio.
Based now in Wolsingham, County Durham with the ever-patient Mr G (My chief taster and Husband), I’ve only recently sold Fondant & Apron Strings where I used to design and make show-stopping cakes.
Creator of the Foodie Book Club, freelance writer, friendly recipe developer, I have a variety of experience in writing content for both regional media and food companies. With a pinch of blogging, a dash of feature and article writing, mixed with my wealth of industry knowledge, I have all of the ingredients needed to create the perfect food writer.
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