Is Food Waste Action Week Just A Waste of Time?
Spring is in the air. As the days get lighter and buds begin to bloom the saying “Out with the old and in with the new” springs to mind. However, this week you’re being asked to do the exact opposite as part of Food Waste Action Week 2021.
USE UP the old BEFORE you bring in the new.
A bit like a reverse Spring clean, I suppose.
But is a single week actually enough to make any impact, or is joining in simply a big waste of time?
THE SURPRISING IMPACT OF THE LOCKDOWN ON THE ENVIRONMENT
When it comes to our general impact on the environment there are some not-so-great numbers and news. Can you believe that 9.5million tonnes of food is wasted each year in the UK alone? Or that food waste contributes to 10% of man-made greenhouse gas emissions?
Fortunately, there is a splash of good news in these astronomical numbers. According to WRAP (the Waste and Resource Action Programme) the amount of food wasted at home is now 22% lower compared to pre-lockdown levels. Which means around 2million tonnes less is being chucked away.
They suggest this might be down to a change in peoples attitudes. There’s more attention and effort spent on using things up so as not to throw money away.
Sure, it could be that we’ve all made a conscious decision to eat up and waste less, but it could be that something else is going on.
ARE MEAL-KIT COMPANIES SAVING OUR SANITY AND THE PLANET?
Take my kitchen for example. In the last few months I know there’s been much less food wasted in our household as we switched to using a weekly service which delivers measured ingredients direct to our door.
It’s certainly helped with food wastage, and saved time that would have been spent standing in supermarket queues or thinking what’s for dinner tonight?
Back in March 2020, meal-kit companies reported huge surges in the number of new customers they signed daily (from 150 to 2000 in one instance). This would definitely contribute to the overall decrease in food that is bought, goes bad and gets binned.
OVERCOMING ‘FICKLE EYES’ AND EXTRA SPENDING
But I’ve come to realise that something else is going on, for me at least. I’m no longer falling foul of my fickle eyes. Here’s what I mean by this.
You know how it is when you’ve done your weekly shop and you find yourself peering into the fridge thinking:“There’s NOTHING I want to eat”. You really fancy eating something else. Next thing you know, you’re ordering a takeaway, even if this means the food you have goes to waste.
That’s what I call a fickle eye. You stop being interested in what’s right in front of you and become tempted by the idea of a completely different meal.
This pattern of less food waste during the lockdown does make sense to me. If you make fewer trips to the shops, and don’t walk past restaurants or fast food outlets on your way to and from work, then there’s a dramatic drop in the number of ‘exciting and new’ food cues you’re exposed to in your environment. It’s well known that novelty is intriguing and stimulates your appetite, so it’s not a huge leap to surmise that it can influence how you shop..
I guess that with less exposure to novelty or tantalising alternatives, I’m simply eating what I already have at home.
FUTURE WASTE AND FUTURE HOPES
Mulling this over brought me to the big (environment-protecting, penny-saving, waste-reducing) question:
What happens when the lockdown is lifted, restaurants and cafes reopen, and everyone gets out and about once more?
Perhaps the perfectly good food waiting in the fridge at home will once again become boring and unappealing and occasionally be left to go bad before being guiltily discarded.
I certainly hope not.
FOOD WASTE ACTION WEEK
Putting my personal plan in to action
Funnily enough, I’d excitedly made a plan to visit a newly-discovered butcher and buy a particular cut of meat. But just hearing about this first Food Action Waste Week, encouraged me to think about what I was intending to buy.
I’ve already got food at home in the fridge.
And in the freezer.
And in the cupboards.
I was only shopping because I’d seen something new, and was excited about what I would eat.
So, I decided to do something different. I made a plan to take one tiny step and only cook what I already had at home. Just for the week.
I’m all about the small steps approach to making a change. Before you know it you’re well on the way to creating a long-term habit, which will eventually add up to something huge.
How did my week of zero food waste go?
It was mostly a success.
As I’m sure you know, there’s always a challenge in life when it comes to PLANS vs REALITY. There’s a gap between what you imagine will happen and how life actually unfolds. In fact, let’s save that conversation for another day, as it applies to much more than what you eat and your health, it’s a fascinating topic to explore.
- My first step was to check the expiry dates and use before dates for what I had in the fridge, and put the food with the shortest date at the front.
There is a difference between the two. The best before date is a gentle guideline, and while food might not taste or look 100% it can still be safely eaten. In contrast, the expiry date is much more strict – there’s more chance of rancidity and food poisoning, so it’s inadvisable to eat foods past this date.
Incidentally I had savoy cabbage, a few potatoes, red onions, limes and coconut yogurt to use first.
- Next I had a rummage in the freezer, to reveal what had been forgotten in a frozen tomb.
Not a tomb but a treasure trove! Well really it’s all down to perspective. There was mackerel, peas, sausages, broccoli, pork belly, rosti, dhal pouri and wild salmon – definitely enough to last for the week.
- Then I got to cooking. I actually made fewer meals and cooked bigger amounts of everything. Although it sounds desperately unsexy, batch cooking is now a big favourite of mine and has worked particularly with all the dhals, stews and soups that I’ve made over the winter months.
How delicious do Pork Belly and Black Beans, Venison Sausages and Mash with a Red Onion Gravy, Mackerel Ceviche, and Red Lentil Dhal with Coconut Yogurt and Dhal Pouri sound?
- Also, I tried to think outside of the box for both lunch and breakfast. Eating leftovers at these times of the day meant small portions didn’t go to waste. I can imagine how having a more savoury approach to breakfast would also help cut down on your intake of over-processed sugary carbohydrate foods, if that’s on your to-do-list.
- Finally, what about novelty and excitement? If one of the reasons good food gets pushed to the back of the fridge and left to go off is that it lacks novelty and fresh appeal, how does batch cooking and eating the same meal a couple of times in one week actually address this sticking point? I guess it doesn’t really.
Perhaps it might make sense to you to approach each meal with a creative mind.
I can imagine the appeal of cooking large batches of food with minimal seasonings, then adding distinct flavours using herbs and spices when you make your meals.
For example, you have a glut of mushrooms and cannelini beans, both simply cooked and ready to eat. You might:
- Add CHESTNUTS + STOCK + THYME and simmer to make a White Bean and Mushroom Stew
- Toss the mushrooms in GARLIC BUTTER, and smash the beans with PARMESAN CHEESE to serve alongside ROAST CHICKEN
- Soften SHALLOTS in butter and cook with the mushrooms and a splash of WHITE WINE to have alongside SCRAMBLED EGGS or simply served on HOT BUTTERED TOAST
- Add to GARLIC and LARDONS gently sautéed in BUTTER. Then stir in TARRAGON and SOUR CREAM and gently heat through. Serve this Mushroom & Cannellini Stroganoff with rice and something green on the side.
The message behind Food Waste Action Week is one that needs to be trumpeted loud and far – the good food that goes to waste does more than fill up your kitchen bin, it contributes to greenhouse gas emissions too. If there’s one thing the lockdown has actually shown, it’s that given the right conditions significantly less food is wasted. But as these conditions are particularly extreme such results might be hard to sustain. However, there is hope and while action weeks such as this reinforce it, adding some personal insight into what makes you shop may be useful if you choose to join in.
Personally I believe in baby steps.
If we all take the same baby steps – checking dates, cooking in batches, noticing when novelty overcomes need and drives our purchases – AND take them at the same time, it adds up to a HUGE STEP in the right direction. Then each small effort to cut back on waste won’t ever be a waste of your time.
Image Diana Oborska at Unsplash.com