Recently many apps have been in the news for reducing food waste- it seems in the digital age, we need our smartphones to tell not not waste food and share food. But food waste is a relatively new phenomenon. In the past, nothing really went to waste, despite not having fridges or freezers. In my village, food was cooked fresh and as there were no fridges, it was stored for a few hours. Usually most of it got eaten, if not by us, it was distributed to the rest of the village. Anything leftover after that was given to the cows, dogs, chickens, ducks and compost heap. I never saw any rotting mounds of food anywhere and generally everyone looked happy and healthy. Even when we went there for our summer holidays of two months, we put on weight as we were generally malnourished in the city. I have also lived in communes and villages in the UK and have not seen wasted food.
So it seems food waste is an urban problem, which is where these apps come in. I also see many homeless and hungry people in the cities all over the world. So there are people wasting food while there are people wanting food, similar to how I see there are people with second homes while some have none. It isn’t an equitable world.
I’ve given to food banks and donated to charities which distribute food to the poor, and helped at soup kitchens which I think is a better way to do things. Apps don’t really solve the problem of poor people going hungry, they are for the rich. So I think for those of us who have more than enough, there could be ways of reducing our waste. This could not only help our bank balances but also the environment. Here are some ways that I have done so-
Using up all bits, i.e. roots to shoots cooking- Some of my recipes use the broccoli stems, carrot leaves, beetroot leaves, potato skins and stems of greens such as summer greens, cabbage, etc.
Using water left over from boiling pasta and vegetables- these make useful and healthy soup stocks and the pasta water is also very useful for mixing flours for bread and chapati making.
Many preserves and pickles come in olive oil or salted water and these can be re-used. The sardine or anchovy olive oil can be used with pasta or bread- it makes lovely base for bruschetta. The salted water or brine can be used in the preparation. I’ve also used up the lemony mixture in the preserved lemons bottle in a chicken bake that had a Moroccan twist. The vinegar that comes with olives has been used for ‘washing’ lamb that makes the strong smell disappear.
I’ve saved up the fat from cooking bacon and burgers and used those for further cooking. Sometimes I’ve added the pasta water to the hot pan with the lovely bacon fat and then put that away for freezing. The beauty of this is that the starch in the water soaks the fat away and it makes it quicker to clean.
I use bits of bread to make croutons for soups and spicy mixes to sprinkle over baked potato, cabbage and spinach. Birds can also have leftover stale bread
Seeds and lentils can be used to make bird feed if you don’t want those.
Sometimes I’ve used a tiered cooking arrangement that soaks away the fat and cooks food with it. You see, my way is the lazy way to cook and clean!
I also carry ‘doggy bags’ for uneaten foods at restaurants and events- I’ve been told that much of the food at events gets thrown away after four hours because apparently that is when the food goes off.
Remember the best way to stop food waste is not to have food waste in the first place.
Lately, I have been thinking about how growing up in India in extreme poverty has made me into what I am. At one point, I used to be extremely embarrassed by our family’s state- especially as my father who was a very proud man told us never to talk about our lack of money. We wore badly fitting home made clothes out of scraps of materials that my mother found. Our school clothes were also made at home, while my friends had tailored clothes. In Delhi’s bitterly cold winter, we went without sweaters- sometimes wearing cast offs, and saving our school sweaters and blazers for school wear and occasions. We went to the local BATA shop where we bought shoes at least two sizes larger and cardboard was inserted so that they would last a bit longer as our feet grew. My mother went to the street market late in the evening when the sellers were selling off damaged or not so fresh produce at cheaper prices- I still remember her walking slowly in a distinct gait coming back with her shopping, as she has a pronounced limp on one leg. She bought rice, lentils and other goods from the government ‘Ration’ shop. These were of very poor quality. So I used to take a long time to eat- two three hours sometimes- picking out maggots and weevils from the rice and vegetables. We could afford fish and egg once a fortnight while chicken and goat meat were a luxury for once a month. My mother used to write each and every cost in a diary, the most meticulous record of expenses that I have ever seen in my life. We were severely malnourished though and in particular, despite being inoculated, I had every disease going- from malaria, whooping cough, diphtheria amongst others and nearly died from a severe case of jaundice. I remember being given steroid injections in order to make my muscles grow but evidently they never worked as can be seen today.
We (three girls and our parents) lived in one small room surrounded by an open terrace which was baking hot in the summer while the leaking roof and badly fitted doors allowed rainwater to come in during the monsoons. The kitchen was also outside and my mother used to get wet getting food from there and back. There was an outside toilet and bathroom with asbestos roof and tin doors that didn’t shut properly. There was one small table fan. The day when we got a ‘ceiling fan’ was wonderful- we sat, taking in the cool breeze that came from the top that cooled down the hot room. Mains water came in intermittently- once in the morning and once in the afternoon (as it still does). So everything from cleaning dishes to cleaning the rooms had to be done in those times- these were such hive of activity all around the neighbourhood. We each had a set of one dish, one bowl and one glass- all made of stainless steel and given to us at our ‘annaprashana’ when the baby eats the first solid food at 8 months. So we had responsibility to wash these after each meal. When I was 22, we got a fridge and then later, a television- both were welcomed with great joy. But it was too late to wipe off the humiliation we had suffered at the hands of various children who had visited our home and the relatives who wondered if we would even live to tell the tale, so great was our poverty. My father valued education, so via scholarship and scrapping money together, we went to a Christian school, which had a much better standard of education than the government schools. My school mates were rich, some even turned up in a car- a rarity in Delhi in the 70’s, so we were the target of many jokes.
The onset of teenage years brought on further humiliation due to poverty. Not only could we could not afford to buy bras, but also sanitary napkins. So we used my father’s old dhoti’s which were soft and I fashioned them to be like sanitary napkins that I saw on the packs in the shops. But my mother made us wash these rags out and re-use them which I found an terrible and embarrassing task, especially if men were around. Further, these home made pads would sometimes pop out of my homemade underwear when playing at the school. After much pleading, my mother bought us bras when I turned 13 years old. And when I got into architecture school, I had some money to buy sanitary pads. But the humiliations continued throughout. Even richer members of our family did not hold back. One of my uncles taunted my father, ‘You can’t even feed these girls, how will you pay for their dowries?’ Another rich cousin sexually abused me and my sister- it seemed we were the butt of every humiliation going. My father used a bicycle to get to his school where he taught. Although in the West, cycling is seen as a middle class pursuit, in Delhi where materialism is worshipped, he was taunted by not only his colleagues but also his students. Recently while cleaning, I found a report that he had been physically assaulted by a colleague in an unprovoked attack. I also clearly remember walking with him with some school boys hurling insults at us. I did not know why they were doing so, but I was afraid. When I grew up, I learnt that these boys were making fun of him because he seemed to have two of each shirt- he bought extra cloth to get two of each items made, thus saving money. So in those boys’ minds, he was a cheapskate. How angry I feel now!
But in midst of these dire times, there were also times of joy. My beloved Uncle, Meshai, who nursed me back to health after my attack of jaundice, encouraged us to paint. He also took us to see exhibitions of modern art, much of which we couldn’t understand but perhaps absorbed something by osmosis. So each weekend was spent in creative pursuit, using PVA paints made from turmeric (yellow), sindoor (red) and the blue dye used as a whitening agent. We made secondary colours out of these basic ones- green, purple and orange. But there was no black paint, which might explain why even today, I don’t use black! We had old calendars, on the backs of which we painted scenes from imagination and also copied pictures from our school books. He also bought us glitter, glue, cellophane, and shiny paper for our birthdays- again, I love these today as they remind me of my childhood joys. I used to steal the foil from his cigarette packs, smelly though they were, and used them. Waste seeds, lentils, scraps of cloth, paper-everything seemed imbued with the possibility of a rich new creation. My tendency to layer waste and found materials in my art today, is probably a nod to my past. The day my Uncle gave us a pair of scissors was a memorable day, but stupidly while playing doctors and nurses, I cut my sister (and deservedly got a good spanking for it!)
I know I have a tendency to hoard which comes from having so little as a child, and so doing ‘Konmari’ or even the ‘Swedish death cleaning’ has been a ritual to exorcise the past. I also used to store things to give to other people, and it took me many decades to realise that people neither appreciated these gifts nor reciprocated them. So now I give donations straight to the charities that I support. For me, this was personally a big lesson. To be messy may be my particular tendency but again, some of that comes from having too many bits to deal with. I used to have a cardboard box in which I stored many images from magazines and old calendars that I got from my Uncle- the foreign magazines were of good quality paper and so, were much desired. When I grew up, I stored a lot of images- pictures cut out from magazines, photographs and even digital photos. I am now getting rid of much of these photographs that Konmari called ‘Komono’ as a way of getting rid of my inclination to store things that I don’t use. The box is long gone but instead, I am slowly going through the images in my mind and visiting these places that I saw in some far away moment in time, in a calendar or a diary. It seems such a miracle to be alive and to be where I am today. My older son suggested I should tell my story, he said, ‘Mum, no one can imagine where you’ve come from when they see you today’. That is why I wrote this piece. Hope you liked it!
I don’t drink much tea or coffee to confess outright. It used to be one cup of either in the morning and one cup in the afternoon for a long time. Then I started to feel dissatisfied and started to have more tea but it was never enough. As I buy the best quality organic tea and coffee- loose tea and coffee beans- it was also quite an expensive habit. Again, I had to go and get these products from specific shops, so there was the additional time/cost element to it. I was suffering from poor sleep as well- perhaps even that little bit more caffeine was bad for me? So I thought- is a there a way of cutting down on these? Again, going back to the three basic points of sustainability- could I save money, save the environment and save my own health? I also wanted to do this in a pain free way because I know if you are deprived of something, you crave it.
I had read about the Konmari method sometime back when her books came out. Something seemed to resonate in that and I thought of trying to drink out of cups that I really loved. I got rid of cups I didn’t like and got out two that I really liked. One was a charity shop find while the other was found on the street- perhaps someone else did not like it!
I had stored both cups away- always for a good time, for another time. Yet, time was passing me by while I was drinking out of cups that I didn’t like and not enjoying the drinks either. I had in the past, tried drinking out of other smaller cups but didn’t like them. To my surprise I found that by drinking out of these cups, not only was I drinking less but also enjoying drinking the tea and coffee, so much that I didn’t need another cuppa. It is the same tea and coffee but tastes so much nicer- I wonder of the spark of joy that Konmari often talks about can be had in drinks as well. I have also changed to eating out of plates that I love and I have found that I eat less as a result and enjoy my food more! Imagine if people who wanted to lose weight tried to eat out of plates they loved- they’d eat less simply by eating with joy out of a plate they loved. Or if someone wanted to reduce alcohol consumption, and they drank out of a well loved glass (I don’t know- might work!) Also, I reduced my waste as I made less tea and coffee, and drank all of it.
Visiting a tea estate brought upon me the hardship that the women who pick tea leaves for us go through- they work from 7-30 in the morning to 5-30 in the evening in the baking sun or rain. Sipping tea now makes me really grateful for this work that these women do and makes tea drinking time very precious. I drink less of it naturally as I enjoy it more. Also, as a side benefit, my teeth which had become stained are now shining again like pearls!
If you should try this method, please do let me know in the comments below if this worked for you- many thanks!
I suffer from an incurable debilitating illness which can suddenly cause blood clotting. It has given me five miscarriages and a stroke while also causing tiredness and pain on a daily basis. You may find I don’t post regularly- this is why. So I work flexibly from my home and go out only when there are meetings with other colleagues. While restricting my income and ambitions considerably, in some ways, it has also been a gift. I’ve had to learn to save money, find ‘easy’ ways of going about daily life and while doing so, I found that I could also be ecological.
For one, before I start, I can’t live a ‘zero waste’ life style- I have waste that can’t be recycled or re-used easily for contamination reasons, for example plastic blister packs with foil backs, bandaging, wipes, etc. I also need to regularly clean areas such as the bathroom and toilet and throw the wipes. So here is a photo of a small bag of such items- for scale, I have put the fork next to the bag. This is rubbish that is non organic and can’t be composted that I have collected in one month that will need to be thrown ( I will save the bag for another use once I have thrown the contents).
But you might agree that this is a very small amount for a month, right?
Being ill and being ecological are not mutually exclusive- there are many things one can do. For those who are lucky to be perfectly healthy, these will work even better. So here are the ideas that I have been using for many years.
Keep your horizontal surfaces clean and clear and get rid of (or store) small items that need constant dusting. This is the quickest way to appear tidy! I have used a sheep skin duster which I’ve had for about 25 years for this. This duster can be washed using the dishwasher liquid (see below). Some linen scraps are also good for dusting but not for wiping.
I have found that cotton cloths from old clothes, particularly underwear, can be cut up and used for wiping. Old clean socks are also good for cleaning and you can put your hand inside the sock to get to difficult areas such as window blinds and corners. I never buy kitchen paper, dish cloths or any other kind of cleaning cloths or wipes.
I don’t use wipes for cleaning toilets- I spray tap water using an old spray bottle and then wipe clean with toilet paper which can be flushed away. Wipes have been known to clog up sewerage systems in London and should not be used. Spray bottles containing water and perhaps a few drops of tea tree oil and lavender are lovely to use and help to combat infection while keeping the area smelling beautifully.
I make my own dish cleaning liquid the lazy way.This made by soaking orange or lemon peels in vinegar for about 4-6 weeks and then adding half measure of washing up liquid. This is less expensive than using pure washing up liquid and also smells lovely apart being very effective. The peels can be used to clean the sink or oven surface and then either composted or thrown- they are quite reduced in mass after all this.
You can tidy up a small areas daily as and when needed– the most used areas get untidier faster. I tidy up the living/dining areas and kitchen as they are used the most and also tend to hoover the stairs. Then there isn’t a huge big tidy up needed if people turn up. If I see a place that is dusty or untidy, then I dust or tidy it- I don’t have a regular schedule. I find that most of the time, visitors don’t notice anything!
I use an Indian grass broom, Jharu, to clean the floor. Unless the there are difficult to reach places which necessitate the use of the vacuum cleaner which can be difficult for me to manoeuvre, I use the Jharu. These can be found in Indian shops (there are ‘Western equivalents’ but not as effective).
I haven’t bought bin bags for years, I simply use the bags/packets I get from my grocery shopping to put rubbish as these would have to be thrown anyway. So, for example, the frozen fish comes in plastic bags which can’t be recycled, so I use them as bin bags. (For those who ask why I don’t take my own container to the fishmonger, I don’t buy ‘fresh’ fish anymore because they are least fresh. Unless you’ve caught them yourself, most of these so called fresh fish are actually defrosted fish and they start to decompose when displayed at the fishmonger’s shop window. These fresh fish are also more expensive.) My recycled toilet paper also comes in plastic packaging but I use that plastic as a larger bin bag.
As another example of ‘secondary use‘, I use water left from cleaning other things to use for more cleaning before throwing it. So if I clean out my dishwashing liquid bottle, then the water from that can be used to clean the sink or washbasin. Shampoo bottles can be rinsed before recycling and that water used to clean the bathtub. Rice or lentil water, i.e. water used for cleaning these, can be used to clean low grease items such as the sink or plates.
Don’t be afraid of using the dishwasher- the modern dishwashers are energy and water efficient and can be quicker and better than hand washing. Some of my utensils that are cast iron or brass hand me downs from my maternal grandmother need to be hand washed and I use the left over hot water from making tea or coffee to wash them.
I buy clothes that don’t need dry-cleaning and even if the label says ‘Dry cleaning’ I will try to use the washing machine on it. I have spoilt a few clothes, I admit, but by not using the dry cleaners, I have made much of a saving!
I generally use the washing machines at the lowest possible setting for the shortest time– usually about 53 minutes at 30C for clothes and 27 minutes for the dishwasher. Once in awhile, I will put a cup of vinegar and turn on the dishwasher for the highest temperature setting- this gives it a good clean. You can also do this for the clothes washing machine using a three table spoons of bicarb.
I have a steam cleaner that I use for deep cleaning the bathroom. This doesn’t need any chemicals and while doing the cleaning, I get the benefit of steaming my face and nose too along with some exercise.
My cleaning equipment is very basic as I can’t lift much and my supplies are limited to Sodium bicarbonate, soda crystals, vinegar, eco-friendly laundry liquid and dish washing liquid. I do use a small amount of bleach from time to time to disinfect and to clear stains. To keep the sink pipes clean, put down some bicarbonate and then some vinegar (it will fizz) and then pour down a kettle of hot water.
I don’t follow the advice, ‘If it is brown, flush it down; if it yellow, let it mellow.’ I found that my toilet bowls get stained if pee is left around too long and so I do flush- it is better than having to use bleach later to remove stains. Dental tablets are excellent for removing limescale from toilets- I chuck couple of these and after half an hour or so, the toilet is free from lime scale.
Finally, remembering that fresh air and sunlight are one of the best germ and insect killers and deodorisers. Strong can also bleach away stains. Even in winter, I try to ‘air’ and sun the rooms when it is not raining. Airing also helps to get rid of dust mites on the bed before it is remade.
As a quote attributed to Albert Einstein said, ‘Everything should be made simple, but not any simpler.’ My home is not minimalist– there are things that bring me joy and I keep them. So the tidying and cleaning is made simple but not any simpler so that the joys of seeing and remembering is lost in extreme minimalism.
Too much cleaning can be bad for health too- and not just from the work. As a BBC report tells us, ‘being too clean is also wrong, because it might help cause asthma and allergies. So is there a balance between keeping obsessively clean and learning to live with the bacteria all around us?’ Quite so, that is the middle way which we can discover for ourselves, for our particular life styles.