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.
I love cooking and even though I have a chronic illness and suffer from tiredness and pain, I feel it is something I can do and actually enjoy it! So over the years, I have devised ways to cook well, easily and cheaply. The money saving is essential because the ingredients I use are organic and fresh, and cost much more than conventional stuff. Also, obviously it has to be healthy cooking too. So money has to be saved in other ways. So here are my top 20 tips. You may not agree with all of them and some of these go against ‘conventional wisdom’, so please feel free to comment below.
Eat between the hours of 8-00 am and 8-00pm. Apparently this the optimum time for food to be digested properly as the body clock starts slowing down. In fact, it starts to do that by 6-00pm but as I usually don’t finish work by then and have to cook from fresh, the food is not ready until about 7-30pm. Try to make your first meal the biggest and the last one the smallest and don’t snack in between.
Oil is one of the most expensive ingredients, so use it sparingly. It is also healthier to use less oil. On the other hand, I use butter and ghee for cooking too. I have found that these ingredients add a richness to bland starchy foods such as pasta, potato, breads and rice so that you end up eating less of such foods. A dollop of butter in pasta sauce adds amazing flavour.
Put a lid in the food that is cooking- it makes it cook faster, save energy and therefore cheaper, and the flavours get locked into the food by doing so.
Eat seasonally and fresh- so that the ingredients will be cheaper and have more flavour. More flavour also mean that less salt and other condiments will be needed to make the food more tasty.
I don’t agree with the concept of mise en place, i.e. getting all the ingredients ready and then cooking, for all types of cooking. Stir frying is one example where this technique would be useful. But the leaving the chopping until you are ready to cook is better as the ingredients are fresher. I often let the oven or pan warm up while I am preparing the vegetables.
We don’t eat ready prepared desserts anymore. Not only are they expensive, wrapped in plastic but also do not taste nice. We might have healthier desserts such as fruits or my homemade yoghurt or even a piece of dark chocolate.
This trick I learnt from my grandmother- no more than three flavours together. This gives such a clean but tasty flavour.
We have at least one component of the meal that helps with digestion as I have real problems. So we can have yoghurt or fermented vegetables (kimchi) or sauerkraut along with the main course.
The bulk of the food is vegetables, with about 30% meat or other protein.
Clean up as you go along, putting away items in the dishwasher/sink for washing and removing peels and other waste from the work surface. It makes tidying up later much easier. One pot cooking is marvellous- so much less to wash up and also saves money.
I cook in steps. So I might marinade something a day earlier or defrost something couple of day earlier and so on. Some of the cooking such as gravy or fried vegetables might have been made earlier.
Always have something in the freezer that can be defrosted the day before so that you can eat as soon as you can, instead of rushing to get a chilled meal from the supermarket. It has been many years since I’ve had a supermarket meal and now if I have a small mouthful, I realise how ghastly they taste. I suppose our tastebuds get used to such food and only until you’ve had a good long break, that you realise that these foods have no flavour at all- mostly salt and sugar to give it some.
Find ways to reduce food waste. So I use the potato skins, broccoli stems, bottoms of lettuce, carrot or radish leaves, etc. (I will put some recipes later on). Even with meat, there is hardly any waste- only after using the bones to make broth, I throw them away. I don’t have a big composter (I have a home made composter which can only handle a small amount each time) or a garden, but our bodies are the best composters. Avoiding buying foods that have parts that need to be thrown away is also good. But some are inevitable such as lemons and bananas. So I will use the skins of the lemons for making washing up liquid or lemon zest. Banana skins can be used for polishing shoes and wood but I don’t like the smell and these skins tend to be my biggest throw aways. If you have a garden composter, then you can be a bit more wasteful.
You can wash out ketchup, jam and sauce bottles with water and add that flavoured water to soups or curries. Then your bottle is also ready for recycling. Soups are nourishing and filling- you tend to eat less if you have the liquid and solid together as with soup.
Many bloggers advise buying in bulk. I live in a flat and there is little space to store sacks of grains or pasta. Also I have found that spices lose their flavour if kept for too long. So buy little and often. It might be more expensive but it is better value.
I have problems cutting hard vegetables such as pumpkins and squashes. So I bake them whole and make soups or mashes out of those. The seeds can be dried and eaten.
This is a great trick I learnt- if some of the ingredients have been in the fridge and freezer, take them out so that they are at room temperature before you cook them. Not only does it save energy but also improves flavour.
I get my vegetables and meat delivered from the farm- local, seasonal and fresh. This saves me trudging from the supermarket carrying bags of shopping which I can’t really do. It is also expensive. I can plan out the meal for the week depending on what I receive- so it also saves time and money. Also there is less packaging to deal with as these come with hardly any and if they do, they are taken away by the delivery company. One less thing to do!
I try not to have drinks with food. I keep them separate. Juices can be expensive. Water is good enough!
Finally, try to eat mindfully with those you love. My uncle used to say that food eaten in good company always tastes better!