Trash the (food) waste

Y’know something that really annoys me? Food waste. It could be the many hours I spent working in kitchens to support my studies, or it could just be simple economics, but it riles me.

There’s little sadder than seeing the hard work of our primary producers wind up in the garbage bin, uneaten and unwanted. You’re not just throwing away your own money, but also the labour, water, nutrients, transport and storage that got that food from the farm to you. It’s not just the lost resources either. Food rotting in land fill produces methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more climate-affecting than CO2.[1] That’s a whole lot of unnecessary waste!

How bad is the problem? I don’t know about the rest of the world, but here in Australia we throw out around 7.5 million tonnes[2] of food waste every year. That works out to about $ 7.8 billion[3] in food waste, just looking at sale price alone! 40 % of our average household garbage is food waste – that’s taking out the people who compost – and in some parts of the country as much as 20% of the total food we buy is thrown away.[2] With 30% of our population living below the poverty line[4] how can we afford to waste so much food? I just don’t get it!

ChutneyBefore

Last week the green tomatoes I’d picked from the old garden when I pulled out the vines got turned into chutney with the surplus new-season red onions I’d bought and some native Tasmanian herbs and spices I had on hand

Lately I’ve come across a few organisations doing their bit for reducing food waste in Australia by taking the surplus from the fortunate and using it to feed the hungry. Here in Tasmania there’s Produce to the People, who collect the excess from backyard veggie gardens. In the bigger Australian cities groups like OzHarvestSecond Bite, Foodbank and Fare Share collect from supermarkets, restaurants and farms. Similar volunteer groups and food charities are popping up in major cities across the westernised world. These are fantastic programs, helping to reduce the environmental impacts of food waste and redistributing the surplus it to where it’s needed, but I think it’s also important to do what you can on a personal level to ensure you get the most out of the food you grow and buy.

Very little food goes to waste in my house and what does goes back into the system via my compost bin, rather than rotting away as landfill. It does take a certain amount of effort though! I have to think about what I’m buying and make myself cook even when I really don’t feel like it. I buy in smaller quantities and seek out fresher local produce, so have to hit up the shops a little more often, and when I have over-bought or have been too busy to cook I need to come up with creative ways to use up the excess before it spoils (or freeze it until I land an idea later). As a side benefit, getting the most out of my food gives me a little more disposable income to splurge on a nice wine to wash my meals down with, or the occasional gourmet treat!

ChutneyAfter

The chutney I made will stretch last summer’s tomato goodness through the winter months.

Here are my favourite methods for using up food and preventing waste:

  • Save any sad-looking veggies or edible offcuts for making stock. I have a bag in the freezer that scraps get thrown into as I go, then once it’s full I’ll add some dried mushrooms or the bones from a roast chook and turn it into tasty stock.
  • Preserve it! Make sweet sauces from over-ripe fruit, turn a tomato glut into chutney or simply pickle extra veggies for a piquant treat to enjoy when they go out of season.
  • Turn extra herbs into pesto, or chop them finely and freeze in small servings for future cooking.
  • Freeze cream or plain yoghurt into icecube trays, then add a few cubes to stews or sauces when you need to.
  • Poach or bake fruit that’s past it’s best and add it to your morning cereal or enjoy it as a dessert.
  • Get creative in the kitchen; challenge yourself to use up everything perishable before buying fresh food and see what you can invent from the odds and ends hiding in your fridge and cupboards (I’ve made some of my favourite meals this way)
  • Cook it all up into tasty meals and freeze them in portions for lunches. With a hot home-made curry or stir-fry instead of a sandwich you’ll be the envy of the work lunchroom!
  • Share the love: put on a feast for friends or give away food you won’t use instead of letting it go to waste.
Do you think about the food you throw away? Have you changed your shopping patterns to cut down on crisper rot? What are your favourite ways to use up left-overs or make the most of a home-grown glut? Share them so we can all enjoy the best of our farmer’s efforts and our individual creativity.
Veg

Buying smaller amounts of super-fresh veg from the local farmer’s market helps to make sure I look forward to cooking and get the most out of my veg.

[1] Wikipedia: carbon dioxide equivalents
[2] Getting ‘FoodWise’ about wasting food by Jon Dee at ABC Environment
[3] Foodwise Fast Facts at foodwise.com.au
[4] Wikipedia: poverty in Australia

9 Comments on “Trash the (food) waste

  1. Your tips on eliminating waste are excellent. Simple and yet – very few people think of them when they are preparing a dinner. The cuts go into the disposal and before you know it, a ton (tonne) is produced. Great post.

    • Thank you Van, I really appreciate the support! I’m surprised by how much I’m enjoying creating the content here.

    • Thank you! I was wondering where all the traffic from Facebook was coming from. I appreciate it!

      Please keep on doing what you’re doing. I think Produce to the People is a brilliant idea and love using this blog to show off what Tasmanians can do. 🙂

  2. Food waste is one of my pet hates too. My housemates are a bit useless in that department. They’ll shop pretty much every day and cook something new rather than eating leftovers. If I don’t prod, often the leftovers will just get left on the stove and more often than not, they’ll still be in the fridge a week later if they manage to put them away.

    We do have a bokashi bucket (http://www.bokashi.com.au/) which C & I are good with.

    I find that having a rough plan for what/when I will be cooking helps reduce my waste. I always freeze/refrigerate my leftovers for another meal (not least because it saves me cooking again!!)

    Do you think you’d give dumpster diving a go?

    • My last housemate was useless with food waste too (and leaving lights on and throwing recyclables into the garbage). At least I got him to use the compost bin, I guess.

      How have you found the bokashi bucket? I’m curious about those and was going to give one a go if I moved into a flat. I’d love to hear all about it, especially as I’m planning a post about compost one of these days!

      I’m undecided about dumpster-diving. On the one hand I know how much good food goes to waste, on the other I’d rather see it go to people who really need it (via OzHarvest or similar) than take it myself. I figure I can afford to buy from local producers and keep my money contributing to the Hobart economy instead.

      • The stuff that goes in the dumpster is what’s left that places like ozharvest don’t take.

        The bokashi seems pretty good to me, though I really don’t know that much about gardening to know if it is helping the vegies grow better. It certainly seems to break the food down ok & cuts down our landfill waste by a whole lot.

        (Don’t start me on the lights being left on!)

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