Let’s talk about food waste. Our World in Data has a great visual to help us understand how much food we and our food systems waste each year.
So what are we seeing here? First off, we can see that food production accounts for a whopping 26% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, however we need food to survive, so whilst not ideal, we’ll set that to the side for the moment. Why? Well, frankly, we can’t tackle everything at once, so let’s focus on one opportunity in our food production cycle: food waste. The graph shows us that of all the food we produce, we waste around a quarter of it, which means that (a) hungry people aren’t benefiting from the calories, (b) 6% of all global greenhouse gas emissions are coming from stuff that we choose to throw away, and (c) we are a very wasteful species!
As with many complex challenges, there are lots of interesting layers to the problem: we waste food during the growing and agricultural stage, the processing stage, in wholesale selling, in food services, in retail outlets, and in our fridges and cupboards once we get them home.
So what’s the “what if”?
What if we all became real “foodies” – not the fancy-schmancy people who pay £150 for a bite-sized five-course meal, but people who really loved food?
What if we embraced vegetables of all shapes and sizes, so that our supermarkets and farmers markets can reduce their waste? After all, a bent carrot chopped up in salad tastes the same a straight one!
What if we became masters of turning too-large meals at dinner into lunchtime leftover feasts, or magicians in adding a bit of this and that to leftovers to make them tasty treats that last several meals? Just imagine how much time and money we could save!
What if we stopped filling our fridges and cupboards to bursting, so that we know what food we already have and need to use before we spend more money whilst things go off?
What if we realised that sell-by date and use-by date aren’t the same thing?
What if we learned that soft veggies can be added to a potato salad or soup for a nourishing meal, milk that is turning still has uses, and that there are sensible ways to store fruit, veggies, dairy and meat products to give them a better chance of lasting longer?
What if one night each week was a “use it up” dinner, to clear your fridge and use up any food that might be looking a bit sad?
What if there was an app where you could offer food that you can’t use, or a central spot in your village or town where you could drop off food and pick up food to make sure that nothing goes to waste? What if you could donate food to a local food bank?
What if there was a social network that you could join that connects people who cook too much with people who have no time to cook? New people and fresh food – win, win!
What if we bought what we needed, based on our plan for the week, than over-buying “just in case”?
What if you embraced the “buy local and in-season” movement to ensure that no crops were left to rot in fields, that local farmers and producers earn a living ways, and to fill your body with good calories and food that hasn’t had to travel around the globe and back to get to you?
What if we could create a world in which some or all of these were standard practice by eaters everywhere?
Possible? Definitely! An opportunity to create a better world? I think so.
But what’s the point?
If climate change interests you and doing your bit to contribute to a habitable future world, then you’ll be contributing to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, which will contribute to keeping things cool – even if only a bit.
If you are interested in people and food equality, if you believe that everyone deserves to be able to eat a decent meal, and if you believe that it’s criminal to waste millions of tonnes of food when millions go hungry every day, then reducing your food waste makes sense.
If you are alarmed at the increased cost of living and you need to watch your pennies, being mindful of food waste will save you money.
If you are interested in freeing up your time, then planning ahead to waste less will decrease the amount of time you have to cook each night.
If you love the idea of making food a reason to meet new people and share your joy of cooking (or eating), then sharing food makes sense.
If you’re interested in doing something that you do every day (eating, cooking) in a brand new way to make a difference to you, to people, to the planet, AND the local economy, then imagining a new future is meaningful.
Creating a new reality
Hopefully you’re all fired up and can see the incredibly opportunities that we have to create a better future by making some small changes to the way we do things. The side benefits of creating this new no-food-waste world are incredible. So what’s the best way for us to start?
Here are nine ideas (usually I like to offer three, because three is a magic number. Nine is a multiple of three, so perhaps this offers you triple the magic!)
#1 - Buy local & in-season
Lower food miles, lovely and fresh, supporting local suppliers. What’s not to love?
#3 - Store food properly
Did you know that taking the leaves off radishes makes them last for weeks? Carrots in water ditto. Wow!
#4 - Eat "first-in, first-out"
Use the food in your fridge that’s most likely to go off soon – logical, right?
#5 - Freeze peels & off-cuts for soup
Pop skins and off-cuts into a bag in the freezer and once a week, use them to make batch of beautiful soup. The same applies to veg that are looking a bit sad when you don’t have time to use them…
#6 - Share your meal
Let’s be honest – the portions are always too big anyway! Share them with a loved one, or if you forget, take home leftovers for the next day’s lunch!
#7 - Commit to a weekly "use-it-up" night
Take a deep-dive into your fridge, check out your canned and dry goods, and use up anything that looks like it won’t last long. It’s an act of creativity, and good for your food-waste credentials, too!
#8 - Share surplus food
How can you justify letting food go to waste when you know that there are hungry people in your community? Food banks and charities would love your help. Alternatively, set up a neighbourhood food-sharing club so that you can share out that 20kg bag of potatoes and onions – money saved, food saved, new friends made?
#9 - Embrace composting
We have worms. No, not THOSE kinds of worms – a worm box where we compost our veggie peelings and tea leaves, which we use to enrich our (tiny) vegetable garden each year. But if worms aren’t your thing, there are lots of non-worm options, too!
A commitment and an invitation
The only idea that I am actively implementing at the moment is #9 (we have a worm box). But all the other options are dead easy for me to implement, aside from #8 (I have no idea where I might give food away and am pleased to say that I don’t think that we have such a surplus of food that this is necessary at the moment). So my commitment is to work on the other seven ideas and make them the “norm” in my household in the next three months.
My invitation to you is to choose one or two ideas that you can realistically put into action. If an idea isn’t realistic, don’t bother – you won’t achieve it, or you’ll resent the effort. And once you get to one or two, see if you can add a few more. And let me know how you get on – I’d love to know!