Throwing away edible food is a devastating misuse of natural resources. In addition to that, food waste is a huge contributor to the global greenhouse emissions. According to FAO, ‘Global food loss and waste generate annually 4.4 GtCO2 eq, or about 8% of total anthropogenic GHG emissions. This means that the contribution of food wastage emissions to global warming is almost equivalent (87%) to global road transport emissions’.
A lot of this waste comes from our homes. As consumers, we are guilty of throwing away (often perfectly edible) food without giving it a second thought. The abundance of choices and better incomes have given rise to the feeling that we can simply afford to waste food. We are also unaware of how our food is made. We often encounter it for the first time at a shopping aisle or restaurant table, disconnected from the process that brought it to us. Somewhere down the line, we have forgotten to value the food that sustains us and brings us pleasure. It’s time to rewire our attitude towards food.
There’s a lot that we can do as consumers to tackle the food waste problem:
- Determine your style of cooking
The most common recommendations for reducing waste at home are meal plans or batch cooking. Though they are useful suggestions, it’s hard to imagine all of us doing it. We all have different schedules and different styles of cooking. Some of us like to plan ahead and some of us like to be impulsive. And others (like me) do a bit of both! For that reason, I believe it’s helpful to determine your style and tailor your solutions accordingly.
If you are a planner, make a meal plan for the week (or how ever many days). Take inspiration from what you have in your fridge and pantry that needs to be eaten soon. A meal plan can also make grocery shopping more efficient. You’ll know exactly what to buy and refrain from purchasing more than what you need.
If you don’t have the time to cook frequently or enjoy the process, cooking in batches is an option. Buying minimal ingredients to make food that will last for a while is easy with an efficient refrigerator and freezer.
If you are a cook that acts on impulse, buying items in small increments can be key to reducing waste. If your dish only requires one potato, you don’t have to buy a big sack of potatoes (a majority of which you probably won’t use for a long time).
Make smart choices.
- Don’t let recipes dictate your decisions
When I was a novice in cooking, I followed recipes to the letter. It was only after a few meals that I dared to experiment. A lot of those innovations were drawn up because I ran short of a few ingredients or wanted to use something before it spoiled in the fridge. And I cherish the thrill of making the best out of what I have!
Sticking to a fancy recipe can sometimes lead to careless shopping decisions. If it’s an ingredient that you won’t use often or is an excess item, try to think of an alternative. For example, we often have cashew nuts at home which I blend and add to some of my curries. It’s a delicious substitute for cream. Or if I am in the mood to make cupcakes, I don’t go shopping for self-raising flour as required by the recipe. The plain flour and baking powder that I already have serves the same purpose!
- Store food properly
This is the most important tactic to reduce household food waste. Here are few habits that I follow:
-I buy my produce in mesh or muslin bags. Apart from being a plastic-free option, these breathable fabrics bags also help my produce last longer. This is especially true for vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, which last longer in the fridge when it’s not stored in a sealed container or plastic bag.
-This is a new lesson that I picked up: Placement in the fridge is important! Fruits like apples and pears are high-ethylene producing items, which needs to be stored a little away from other produce like carrots and beetroots. Exposure to ethylene can quicken the wilting process and carrots could lose its crispness.
-I love berries but they are very delicate and should be handled with care. Don’t wash your blueberries, strawberries, raspberries or blackberries until you eat them. It’s important to keep them dry in the fridge.
-Freezing fruits is always an option. However, this may change its consistency (becomes a little mushy). If you have plans to make a smoothie, thawing frozen strawberries is a good option.
-Store food in clear containers (in the fridge and the pantry). It’s the best way to keep track of all the items. It lowers the chances of finding something after it has rotten. It’s also a good habit to rotate, by bringing older produce in the front and putting the new items at the back.
- ‘Best before’ dates should not be taken as gospel
We often throw away food based on ‘best before’ dates. However, ‘best before’ is not a safety date. It indicates the date up until the product will be of best quality or flavour. Beyond the date, it may lose its freshness or taste, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s no longer safe for consumption.
‘Best before’ dates are quality indicators. On the other hand, expiration dates indicate the last date the product is safe to consume. Familiarising ourselves with the meanings of these terms can help us make smarter choices.
- Explore cooking with every part of the vegetable
From making fries out of broccoli stems to dips made of spinach stalks, there are a lot of creative ways we can use a vegetable. The leaves of cauliflowers, which are generally thrown out, are another favourite of mine. They are nutritious and a tasty addition to your meal.
- Compost, compost, compost!
You made best use of your ingredients and you also ate up the leftovers, but you are still left with some food waste. Composting is the best way to recycle household food waste. You may think that sending it to the landfill is harmless because it’s biodegradable. However, food waste in landfills rot and produces methane which is more potent than carbon dioxide. By composting your food waste (or sending it to the compositing bin in your locality), you are reducing the methane emissions from the landfill and lowering your carbon footprint.