Thursday, January 24, 2013

8 tips to prevent food waste

 This video about food waste from the BBC highlights just how much food is wasted in developed countries. Some of it is due to confusion about labeling but much of it is due to carelessness. Food has become so cheap that we don't value it and discard it easily.

This is balanced by the unfortunate sadness of obesity, too many people consuming too much food (and often the wrong kinds of foods but that's a topic for another day).  So while I don't encourage polishing off your plate if you have eaten enough, I also don't encourage throwing away large amounts of food.

Given the high number of people who don't have enough to eat in the premier nations, let alone the rest of the world, this is a major issue. If we continue to think there's not enough food we continue to pave the way for GMO foods.  And as we've seen, increased use of GMOs causes increased use of pesticides not the decrease that was initially promised.  GMO also appears to be causing a huge increase in Irritable Bowel Disorders as it destroys intestinal flora.

So what are we to do about food waste?  How do we address this issue and stop the senseless destruction of massive amounts of food.  Food which took many man-hours to grow, nurture, harvest, transport, produce, and provide?  Food which someone had to work hard to earn the money to pay for it.  Food which might have provided a meal to someone in need.

One is to look at our consumption habits.  If we routinely throw out certain fresh foods perhaps we're buying too much.  If we collect foods in containers, letting them turn grey and fuzzy before we throw them out, perhaps we are preparing too much.  Or perhaps we're not just packaging them attractively enough to be appealing for a second or third meal.

In our house we've implemented a few of the following strategies to help reduce food waste.

  • Shop more frequently:  I know this is a pain in the rear.  However, while I have a fully stocked pantry of staple products, I find I do better when I shop 2-3 times per week for fresh items buying only what I need for the next couple of days.  This requires menu planning and making it a habit to not impulse buy. 
  • Only buy what you will use:  This can be a challenging habit to implement.  Oftentimes we purchase because it's on sale.  Or we think 'I've always wanted to make that.'  Perhaps we say to ourselves 'I think I just saw a recipe for that.'  And if we don't get to that item, it winds up in the trash.  If we only buy what we know we will use there will be much less waste.
  • Plan for leftovers:  With only three people in the house, all on varying schedules, I have had to change my cooking habits.  When I cook a whole chicken, for example, I already know the meals that will be the result of that meal, having several recipes that call for cooked chicken.
  • Scaling back:  No longer cooking for five people on a daily basis I have learned to scale back family favorite recipes or to know that half of the meal will be stored in the freezer for a later meal.
  • Sharing purchases:  I've been building a network of friends with whom I can share larger purchases.  For example, 10 pounds of onions is much less expensive than purchasing them either on a per pound basis or in a three pound bag.  However unless I'm planning on making frequent batches of onion soup I can't go through it all quickly enough.  If I share with one or two friends we all get the benefit of the less expensive price and there is bound to be less waste.
  • Attractive use of leftovers:  (That sounds rather silly but I couldn't think of a better way to phrase it).  Using wide mouth pint jars to make a meal-in-a-jar from leftovers somehow seems much more attractive to people than looking at a collection of plastic containers where you have to open and peer at each one to decide which one(s) you want to eat.  This food saving tip also includes learning to make a composed plate with perhaps one new food (usually a quick saute of some kind) and arranging everything well on the plate.  If you put the same attention into arranging a plate of leftovers as you do a plate of fresh cooked food, people will respond positively.  If you plop it wherever on the plate and just lump it there, they are less enthused about the meal.
  • Rummage cooking:  I'd love to see a t.v. show on this concept (rather than the immensely stocked everything-you-could-imagine pantries) and it's one that takes a bit of practice.  This is where I notice that the refrigerator is getting full.  I look at the ingredients and begin to plan what I can make for a menu using up those last bits.  I'll confess that in the beginning it was usually a soup or stew.  But as I learned to put flavor profiles together we began to have more varied meals.  While not all of them are successful as a "menu" they are all tasty and a great way to prevent waste.
  • Serve smaller portions:  It's always better to go back for seconds than to have too much on the plate.  Studies have shown that we eat more than we think if we have larger portions in front of us.
I'd love to hear your tips and tricks for preventing food waste.  What habits have you learned?  Email me or share below.


Sam said...

First, yes shopping more than once a week for produce is better, a pain but better. Second - we are trying a bowl with "EAT ME NOW" on the top shelf in the fridge. Maybe we will and not throw it out. Freezing left overs is good, we use a magnetic pad on the fridge to alert all to what is IN the freezer. Trying to date frozen goods so we use them. And trying to look at the pantry every 2 months for expired items.

Mira Dessy said...

Sam, I love the EAT ME NOW idea. It's cute and get's the message across.

I also like the idea of a magnetic pad listing what's in the freezer. For those that have a stainless steel finish perhaps a sticky note might work.

I also go through my pantry on a regular basis to see what needs to be used up. This has the added bonus of making sure that we rotate items properly.

Cindi said...

Thank you for this one! Going to print your ideas and keep it in the kitchen. I'm a huge food waster. My family hates leftovers. This will remind me to cut the recipe in half at all times.
My neighbor also told me about meal planning. (duh!) Stick to the list. It's cheaper because you don't buy the extra unneeded things, even when you buy the small expensive packages.
I think I'll talk to her about sharing the larger sizes and meal plan with her. Could be fun to get together. :)
Thank you for this one! Just what I really needed most.