Whenever I take out the trash, I notice that almost half of the garbage is composed of food – there are leftovers no one wants to eat anymore, stale bread and dinner rolls now engulfed in mould, and wasted fruit that went rotten from being in the refrigerator for too long. It is enough to make my mornings completely guilt-ridden. There are millions of people in the world dying of hunger and here I am with my bin full of relatively good food that could have been eaten by a starving person if given the chance.
The problem is not just limited to our kitchens or poverty. Nearly 1.3 billion tons worth food is discarded annually. Not only it is the waste of money, it is also contributing to climate change. How? Rotten food is buried in landfills where it releases methane gas, a greenhouse gas, which eventually has a destructive effect on our environment. Wastage of food also causes the loss of water as it is being used in agricultural lands. If this continues, the resources will deplete sooner than you think.
Let’s not take it for granted and make a pact to reduce food waste. Here are a few practical solutions to help you avoid wasting food.
1. Meal Planning
When all your groceries for the month are used up and you are planning on going on a shopping trip, check what is left in your refrigerator and pantry. Chances are you are unlikely to ever use it and it will ultimately go into the trash can.
Before going to the store, roughly plan out your meals. I know I typically cook pasta, rice with chicken and gravy and a curry at least once a month. Mashed potatoes and steaks are usually twice a month. I will definitely buy the ingredients for them. However, for that Thai dish I have been contemplating on for weeks… I will usually get the herbs and spices on the day I am going to cook it. Apart from helping you avoid food wastage, meal planning also saves you money too!
2. Store Food Correctly
Do you keep your onions and potatoes in refrigerator? Do you leave your milk out on the dining table at room temperature after opening it? Did you just defrost that chicken and then put it back in the freezer? It really is essential to learn to store your food correctly.
Even though we may be perfect at baking cookies and lasagna, most of us don’t really know how to store food items optimally. For example, I had been refrigerating cucumbers for ages and learned only a while ago that they are best kept at room temperature. No wonder I had to throw out so many cucumbers!
It is also important to note that certain fruits and vegetables release ethylene gas that will cause a ripening effect in other food items. Such food items, bananas and peaches, need to be kept separately from ethylene-sensitive produce like potatoes and apples. Conversely, if you have raw fruits that could do with ripening, then storing them with a bunch of bananas will help them ripen more quickly.
Often, chips, crackers, biscuits, bread, and rusks go stale and you don’t have any option but to toss them in the bin. However, start storing them in an air-tight container and they will stay fresh for weeks. Instead of throwing them out, you can also dry or bake stale bread and whizz them to make crunchy bread crumbs for coating! Similarly, crackers or dry biscuits can also be repurposed to be used in different recipes.
3. Consume Everything Edible
You might not like the taste of apple’s peel, but it is actually enriched with numerous nutrients beneficial for your health. Similarly, chicken skin is loaded with good fats, vitamins, and protein. When you are cooking, try not to throw away edible parts and create a chaotic waste. Use skins, stems, and leaves that are edible. Your meals will be healthier and you will avoid wasting useable food. To make use of vegetable and meat scraps, you can make a wholesome pint of broth for medicinal or cooking purposes. If you love oranges and lemons, use their rinds for an extra kick in your meals. Or dry the peels for scent.
4. Sow the Seeds
Watermelons, pumpkins, apples, tomatoes, and many other fruits and vegetables have seeds that are sent to landfills merely to decay. Instead, they can be properly sowed, watered and grown into lovely plants that will repay you with even more fruits! If there is enough space in your home, grow a kitchen garden and enjoy your very own fresh and organic produce!
Not into gardening? Don’t worry. You can eat seeds too! Many seeds are edible and packed with nutrients. After collecting seeds, wash and dry them or gently roast them in the oven, and store in a jar for an additionally crunchy bite.
5. Freeze It, Can It, Jam It!
If you’re done with pies and soups, but do you still have a load of green peas and strawberries left? No need to toss them away, freeze them! For instance, you can remove the stems from washed strawberries, slice them and then store them in either a Ziploc bag or an air-tight container. They are perfect for smoothies.
For peas, you can shell them, collect the peas and then freeze them in the same manner. No matter what the season, you can now enjoy the non-seasonal fruits whenever you like! Similarly, most excess fruit and vegetables can be cooked or cut up to be frozen for later use.
Making jams and chutneys out of a glut of fruit or vegetables is also a great way to use up excess food and fruit. Stored right, they can usually keep for 12 – 18 months and make really nice gifts at Christmas time.
6. Compost Leftovers
Composting is one of the best ways to utilize leftovers and food scraps. The organic matter is beneficial for growth of plants and before long you’ll have a load of really healthy compost and dirt for your vegetable patch.
If you have an outdoor space in your house, you can easily use an outdoor composting system. Whether it’s compost bins or wooden box storage system. Indoor systems are available as well which are quite useful for those with limited space, particularly those living in apartments. They are usually tight fitting and have speciality worms that process at especially high rates. From wilted fruits to egg shells, compost everything!
7. Clean Your Plates
If you always tend to leave a few morsels on your plate, stop it at once. When you are eating, make sure you eat everything on your plates. Whether it is a floret of broccoli that you dislike or the egg yolk, finish everything. Isn’t that what we teach our kids anyway? When you are cooking food, make sure you don’t cook and serve in excess. Eat what your body needs, not just what you want or like.
8. Only Buy What You Need
Although buying in bulk is convenient and usually time and cost-effective, it can make you purchase things you won’t use anytime soon. Supermarkets with their numerous shelves, inviting deals and captivating displays make you spend more than you intend to.
Rather than buying grocery and food items for a whole month, stick to a weekly plan. Make a list and stick to it. Only shop for ingredients you would need in the coming week. Not only will you save food from being wasted, you will notice a significant decrease in grocery bills as well! No more impulse buying shopping and no more cake mixes sitting in the cupboard for months ultimately getting expired.
9. Understand Expiry Dates
Expiry dates are hard to understand! Sell by, best before and consume within have caused a lot of confusion. Most of the manufactures only mention the date they ‘think’ the food would be spoiled by. There are no actual regulations. So instead of just reading a use-by date, make better use of your own judgement. If a fruit or a piece of meat expired a couple of days back, but looks edible without any rotten smell or weird appearance, use your discretion and instincts. Chances are most foods and fruits are edible at least for a few days outside it’s expiry.
10. Donate It
Before the can of corn sitting in your pantry expires and before that cheese turns into a block of mold, donate it to soup kitchens and shelter houses. Check out the local food banks in your area and don’t hesitate to give away any food produce you won’t be eating anytime soon. There are plenty of people who would be grateful to have that piece of food in their plates. Think about them.
If you happen to have a good amount of food scrapes, hand them out to farmers and animal shelters. They will usually have it, to feed animals and to add it to their fertilizers and compost heaps.
BONUS: Repurposing Meals
Get creative! Have leftover chicken? Make rolls with shredded chicken steak filling and add a few sauces! Or if you have a variety of fruits, make a creamy fruit trifle or a healthy salad. There is a lot you can do with leftovers. Done right, they will taste as good as new.
How easily we waste our resources… We take vegetables for granted, our pantry is always well-stocked and fridge teeming with goodies. Food waste is a massive problem that is contributing a lot to instabilities – global starvation, agricultural issues, and unfavorable climatic changes. However, don’t despair for it is not too late. Every little step can make a huge difference. Start with yourself and motivate people around you to stop wasting food. Take responsibility and bring about positive change and it really isn’t difficult at all!
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