Sunday, 8 February 2009

How can we stop wasting food?

There's an excellent article in the Observer today by Alex Renton, highlighting how much food we still waste. He highlights salad vegetables as a particular culprit: Britain imports twice as much salad as it actually eats. The rest gets thrown away.

Supermarkets are to blame, we're to blame but it's not easy. The media is full of mixed messages. Eat more fruit and veg scream the health campaigners, get two for the price of one say the supermarkets. We want to be healthy and to save money so we do then we find we can't use it up in time (and the health police are on our backs if we go over the use-by date)

I waste a great deal less food than I used to but I still throw food away. The odd blackened banana I meant to make into a smoothie or a batch of muffins. Some forgotten cheese that has found its way to the back of the fridge. Some leftover vegetables or gravy I couldn't bring myself to throw away at the time and which 3 days on are beginning to look a bit dubious. Salad - oh yes, salad and herbs that have deteriorated to a soggy mush and are unrescuable. Nothing to be proud of at all.

While we can afford to replace the food we so wantonly waste there's no real incentive to be more careful but as anyone who is on a really tight budget will know throwing away food is simply throwing away money. A freezer certainly helps but more than anything I think it's a question of organisation and time management. Keeping the fridge and cupboards tidy so you actually know what you have. Setting aside a few minutes every day to plan what to do with anything that's in its last throes - and turning it into something tasty. Neither tidiness or time management are my strongest suit but I'm going to redouble my efforts.

What about you? Do you find you waste much these days? Have you managed to cut back on the amount you throw away? What are the things you tend to chuck most often - is it salad? Do post your thoughts and your tips.

PS on a lighter note the beginning of the article reveals that Michel Roux uses thickly cut potato peelings to make chips for his staff. Good tip - I definitely like the sound of that . . .

28 comments:

Cathy M said...

I find plastic bags very helpful in saving food. Before I close the bag, I push the air out. Lettuce lasts much longer that way. The stray banana that's getting soft gets frozen until I have enough for banana bread.

Deanne J said...

Salad is my throw away weakness however I found that if I don't buy pre-made packet salad I tend to waste less.
Seperate all your lettuce leaves wash them is icy cold water then spin them dry. It's important they are not wet to ensure they keep well. Then I take a clean tea towel and wrap my leaves in it then store it in it's own veg draw in the fridge. Very easy to pick at, plus all the hard work is down when you want to throw a few things together.

I've also found that if I plan my meals, which I understand not everyone has the time to do, then I will stick to my planned shopping list and not give in to the BOGOF's.

I stopped buying meat from supermarkets and just go to the butchers and get them to give me exactly what I want. I was so sick of getting meat home from a supermarket coming back to it a day later and finding it was off!

Gerrymh said...

Storing fresh fruit and veg on a boat is an art form! With limited refrigeration and,often, many weeks between ports we have to make everything last a VERY long time.
There is a product sold via Lakeland Plastics called the long life green bag (I think). The coating inside the bag retards the natural ripening process of the contents. In many cases it more than doubles the storage time.
They are reusable maybe 3-4 times and I can personally vouch for their efficacy!
Don't store bananas with other fruits, they give off a gas that speeds up ripening of other fruits.
Lakeland also sell a 'herb saver' which I can recommend.

notSupermum said...

I seem to waste bread, bananas and things like tuna and mayo which I make for sandwiches and then we only use half of it, the rest gets to fester in the fridge.

I am getting better at not wasting food,but still have a long way to go before I can be considered frugal.

lilymarlene said...

I grew up in a large family and there was honestly never any food wasted.....so I am not one who wastes food nowadays. We always eat up leftovers within a day or so. And I keep all the plastic containers from our once-in-a-blue moon takeaways and use them to freeze portions for later use if we get fed up with having the same every day. I don't like under-catering when feeding guests so I always prepare something that can freeze nicely.

lilymarlene said...

I should also have said that I use one of these in the veg drawer in the fridge
http://www.freshpod.co.uk/

Simon said...

I can't claim I never throw anything away, but I've got pretty good at forward planning. I buy and immediately freeze anything I find in the reduced section in the supermarket (ideally chicken breasts, mince etc). I then plan the food for the week based on what's in the freezer - this way I know exactly what perishables I need to buy.

I'll then make up a 'double batch' of a particular meal, eating one that day (or the next) and freezing the other. The freezer is therefore generally half full of meat, and half full of cooked meals.

Where I fall down is bread - sometimes if we're both eating packed lunches and toast for breakfast we can get through a loaf a day. Other times (more often than not) it's gone mouldy or stale by the time I next open the bread bin!

essjayeff said...

I have a worm farm that uses up all my left over salad and fruit. And I buy from farmers markets where they dont gas their salad greens so they go of the minute you open the packet. and I grow my own herbs. It's not much, but I throw away much less than I used to, and the worm castings fertilise my herbs!

Fiona Beckett said...

Wow, what a response! Thank you all so much for your comments. Some great tips.

I should definitely freeze my bananas, Cathy and good tip about the lettuce. You're right it lasts longer if you use whole lettuces rather than bags of leaves, Deanne.

And it is odd how fast supermarket meat goes off. Must be the vac-packing.

Lakeland have a lot of useful gadgets, Gerry - will look out for those and the freshpod, Lilymarlene. Intriguing. I wonder how it works.

Bread seems to be a problem for a couple of you. I'm not too bad at that. I do tend to whizz the tail ends up into breadcrumbs which are really useful for things like stuffings, gratin toppings and meatballs. And yummy Queen of Puddings!

Growing your own herbs is certainly a good ideas essjayeff. Those supermarket packets are ridiculously overpriced. But I think I'm slightly too squeamish for a worm farm!

Amanda said...

My Dad used to fry up the potato skins from the peelings when we were little. Lovely and crunchy! Brings back lots of fond memories. Unfortunately I don't have a deep fryer at home and we live in an apartment where they don't collect food scraps. I'd say about 40% of what we throw away is actually food scraps (peelings etc).

I'm reasonably good with not throwing stuff away. I use all the usual tips, freezing as much as I can, planning well and being careful about how much I buy. I made some sorbet recently out of some frozen melon. That's a great way of using up leftover fruit and very easy to do.

TonyM said...

I am guilty of throwing away far too much food - salad, bread and vegetables being the major culprits. I can recommend the herb saver from Lakeland which really does seem to keep cut herbs fresh and useable for a significantly longer period than leaving them in the fridge in a bag.

I agree with you Fiona about the time and organisation - both before going shopping and at the start of each day.

I think that most waste occurs when I use a supermarket but unfortunately I often don't have the time to do anything other than the "one stop shop".

recipes2share said...

It's difficult and I do try to waste as little as possible. A lot of leftovers can be frozen and may of these actually make great lunches for hubbie at the office, who tends to eat at his desk and often skips lunch if I don't do a goodie bag. Otherwise for me, veggies are my downfall. I try to buy them as I need (have a fantastic farmers market)and in this cold snap have been making masses of soup....the guinea pigs are well fed too!!

Fiona Beckett said...

You could try a wok, Amanda. I've made chips quite successfully in one in the past. (Parsnip crisps too which are yummy.)

Herbsaver sounds good, Tony, I can see I'm going to have to put in an order to Lakeland . . .

And yes, veggies are tricky, recipes2share. You don't always want to keep them in the fridge and they go off very quickly in a centrally heated kitchen

Maureen said...

I bought a banana bag from Lakeland. The bananas do discolour a bit but they sure do taste good even after several days.

I have a container in the freezer that I top up with leftover cooked vegetables. When I fancy making soup, out come the contents of the frozen veg box ...the basis of a different soup every time!

Career Misfit said...

If there's one food category I throw out more of than anything else, it has to be salad. I think it's something to do with feeling encouraged to buy the tomatoes/cucumber/celery/leafy stuff all year round to add interest to my personal bête noire: the boring work lunch based around rolls and sandwiches. And it's a shame because a good salad is fine, fine thing (just ask any Greek person), but having it year-round and stuffed into boxes with tuna rolls is salad murder. If I can break that habit I'll be onto a winner.

Slice of life said...

I seem to throw away spring onions. Dont know why, I just do.

And again with the potato peelings, I spray them with fry light and chuck sea salt on them and bung them in the oven. They taste fab, when you let them go crunchy. You can keep them in a lock and store box, with a sheet of kitchen towel, (do I dare say, kitchen towel?, mortal sin) they will stay like that for a day or 2.

never put left overs in the fridge. Always put them straight into the freezer as soon as the are cool. Then you dont have a surprise when you find it behind the jars in the fridge!

Sam said...

I have several Tupperware "fridge smart" containers which I swear by. My vegetables last for ages in these containers which have an adjustable air flow which keeps the contents fresh for much longer. They are expensive but I think mine have paid for themselves over time since I very rarely throw any vegetables away any more.

kathryn said...

I hardly waste anything anymore. I used to, but over the last few years as our budget has shrunk and our food concern / ethics have increased, I have become more and more diligent.

I buy carefully. In fact I try to under-buy. I often put what I think I need in the shopping trolley and end up taking a quarter of it out. We're close to shops, so I can always top up.

And if something is close to turning, I'll just add it to that night's dinner. Even if it's not in the recipe. Sometimes it's a bit odd, but I can usually make it work.

But this takes time and practice. As well as a pretty deep cooking knowledge.

Anonymous said...

Throwing away food - what a luxury!!

Fiona Beckett said...

More excellent tips!

Another good Lakeland gadget, Maureen! Like the sound of your banana bag.

Gotta work harder at your 5-a-day Career Misfit!

Spring onions do go off particularly fast sliceoflife. Best to eat them within 48 hours. And good freezer tip - though not all things freeze.

Haven't seen the fridge-smart containers, Sam - will look out for those.

And very good point about underbying kathryn. You're right - you can always put stuff back. In fact it's worth pausing a moment before you go to the checkout to see whether there's anything you don't actually need.

And anonymous, yes, I know it's a luxury but we're all human ;-) Sometimes things just slip the net

Haddock in the Kitchen said...

It is so very true that we have little or no incentive to be less wasteful with food. Did you see a news report a few months back about the volume of waste generated in Bristol alone (BBC report I think). It was quite terrifying. I remember more modest days when I had to literally use everything in the cupboard plus handouts from family to eke things out until payday - how sweetly ironic that those meals seemed to taste so good. Is it that I appreciated every morsel? Probably. Anyway, I liked the article very much. Regards
Helen
http://haddockinthekitchen.wordpress.com

James said...

Gosh - has noone mentioned freezing bread? I bake whole loaves, slice them and freeze them - then you can prise off slice by slice. They can be toasted from frozen, or if you want it fresh leave it out 10 minutes and it's defrosted. And the crumbs on your chopping board/ left in the freezer bag are used as breadcrumbs.
For salad - you have to be clever about what type of salad you buy - if you get baby spinach, rocket or watercress, all very healthy, and when you're tired of eating them raw, or they're going over you can steam them and eat them as a vegetable, or freeze them cooked and re-heat in the microwave from frozen on a busy night.

James said...

And sometimes sad salad leaves don't look too appetising. That's when you chop them up and mix them with vinaigrette and other stuff that's lurking - nut's, raisins, cooked meat/ veg. Bowl salads. Quick snax. Chopped it seems more appetising, or easier to eat for some reason - and that is half the battle.

Laura Schenone said...

Make soup stock of leftover vegetables and compost the rest for your vegetable garden.

On the topic of leftovers, I recently wrote about how we've been spending our way to culinary success rather than cooking. Have you seen the green granny?

Fiona Beckett said...

No didn't see that report, Helen, but it's mad how much waste still goes on.

Good tips on bread and salad veg, James - thankyou.

And yes agree with you about show-off cooking Laura. But don't know about the green granny. Tell me more!

Anonymous said...

I really hate wasting food. The best thing of course is dont buy too much. Avoid large packets of veg on offer .. or if you have to have them make a large batch of soup and freeze it.

On salad leaves. Many can be cooked. throw spare lettuce into a stir fry at the end with some water.. Put into soup....

chutney is another great user upper. You can make chutney out of nearly anything including black bananas, carrots swede and beetroot. And it is delicious and a great gift when visiting.

Get out your indian veg cookbook, invest in some spices and nearly any veg is delicious when cooked in a spicy sauce or made into kofta...

Slow roast tomatoes if too many...

Another good tip a friend gave me is when making a new recipe if more than two ingredients are not in your store cupboard (sauces oils vinegars etc) dont make it.

think of the birds and leave them out bruised apples....

| am lucky in that my local organic veg delivery place when they have overordered send me round the spare (www.homeorganics.ie) and I have friends with allotments. so Sometimes I am awash in veg that has to be used.. but I do

Fiona Beckett said...

some very thoughtful and interesting points, anonymous - thanks for sharing those. Like the sound of the chutneys.

Anonymous said...

I seem to remember a recipe of Delia Smith´s which I think is from her One is Fun cookbook and involved a soup with Indian spices which contained sautéed lettuce, cucumber and spring onion. I made it with some very dodgy looking salad veggies lurking in the fridge once and it worked really well. Maybe I should try sautéeing leftover salad greens more often, especially as sometimes they just get past the point where you can eat them raw. Unfortunately, I don´t live in the developed world, where you guys have access to wonderfully fresh veggies -- veggies here already look pretty manky when you buy them and I don´t have a freezer or space for one. Power cuts in a hot climate also mean that some things go off.

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