I just recently watched a movie called “Just eat it. A food waste story” and it really got me thinking about how much food is wasted in the world and what we can do about it.
Here are some stats presented in the movie (based on US data), but I’d really recommend watching it to get the full picture:
- Around 40% of food is wasted (raised or grown) – mostly fruit and vegetables.
- Out of the food we bring home, we throw away 15-25%, which adds up to 1,500$ a year.
- North America and Europe produce 150-200% more food than they can consume, wasting a huge amount of land and resources.
- Water embedded in the food we waste could nourish 500 million people yearly.
- 9 out of 10 Americans throw away food on the date of expiry, even though it has nothing to do with safety.
- 97% of wasted food in the US goes directly to landfill, instead of giving it to people, animals or converting it into energy. In the US you cannot legally be sued for donating food that you deem good and no one (including supermarkets) has ever been sued for it.
You may think that you as an individual can’t help, that it’s the big corporations that need to sort themselves out and begin donation schemes etc, but you can make a difference by starting in your own home. The average American wastes up to 25% of the food they buy, so how can we prevent this?
Shop more frequently and buy less
The problem with today’s society is that we want everything to be fast and comfortable, so people do a huge grocery shop once a week and buy everything they think they’ll need until the next big shop. In my opinion, this is a sure way to waste food.
Our moods change all the time, you may think you want pasta on Wednesday and buy the tomatoes for it on Sunday, but when the day comes, you actually feel like a pie, so you go out and buy more ingredients for a pie, and forget about those tomatoes you have in the fridge (and probably have leftovers from that pie the next day).
By shopping everyday or every other day, you can buy just enough to make a meal for the next day or two, and you will be less likely to waste it. This also allows you to buy more fresh ingredients, such as fruits and vegetables, and not rely on canned and processed foods that last longer in the fridge but do us no good.
Cook just enough to eat
For starters, when you make food, there’s no arguing that fresh is best, so leftovers are a very rare occurrence in my house.
I think one of the most important things you can do, not only to prevent food waste, but to also help your waistline, is to make just enough to eat, with no extras for seconds. For some reason, if you have friends over or if you’re catering an event, it’s “embarrassing” to run out of food. How did this get programmed into our brains? I admit, even I overcook when I have guests, but this movie really made me think why on earth did I make so much?
If you have more food on your plate than your body needs and wants, only 3 things can happen: 1) you will throw it away and waste it, 2) you will keep eating until you’re stuffed and the plate is empty or 3) if it’s ok to store in the fridge, you will keep the leftovers and have not-very-fresh food the next day. These options are not very good, but I especially disagree with the second option, and even wrote a blog about it here, because there’s just no good reason to stuff yourself just for the sake of not wasting food. Better go give it to someone else, or better yet, don’t get to that point to begin with – make just enough food for yourself and whoever else you’re serving.
Invite friends over for lunch
If you feel that you have too much food in your fridge that is showing signs of wilting and it’s too much for you to eat, just invite your friends over for dinner. They will be happy, you will all have a lovely day and no food will be wasted.
Just make sure not to make too much, if the point of this lunch is for you to “get rid” of all the food in your fridge that’s about to go, don’t do more shopping.
If you don’t have a chance to invite friends or family for lunch and you’ve made too much food, why not give it away to a homeless person or your student friend who could really use a meal? There was an interesting point in the movie that said that there’s a law in the US that says you cannot be sued for donating food, yet supermarkets scare their staff and make them throw away anything that is just about to expire (which doesn’t mean it’s no longer safe by the way).
With my raw food business I occasionally have leftover food from workshops or events (though more often than not I make just enough, so even I don’t get a meal from the leftovers), in which case I will bring something, like these delicious chocolate apricots above, to one of my mum’s meditation evenings, where everyone can enjoy them.
Make a smoothie or a soup out of random bits of food you have lying in the fridge
Do you have a plate in your food filled with half-cut fruit? If you feel like you’re not going to use them anymore, why not make them into a smoothie? I know someone who really doesn’t like ripe bananas, but when I “hide” them in a smoothie they taste great.
Soups are great too, cooked or raw. Today, for example, I had a friend over, we made wraps and we had some chopped tomatoes left over, which I will use tomorrow to make gazpacho.
Even if you’re raw – cook it
Once in a while I have a lot of food in the fridge that’s on it’s last legs and I don’t have time to make something out of it all or I have things like aubergines that I have no dehydrator space to dehydrate, so I will cook it into a hot soup or a curry or something like that. If you’re 100% raw, you can always give it away to someone, or invite friends over to eat it. Sometimes it’s nice to cook something for your guests even if you’re raw.
Once a week, clean out your fridge
Sometimes you have stuff lying around in your fridge from months ago and you don’t even realise it’s there. By being organised and cleaning out your fridge more frequently, you have more chance of “finding” food to eat and less chance of wasting it. There’s no point in ordering pizza when you have a fridge full of stuff – it’s best to eat what you have first.
If it helps, once a week make a “clean out” meal – i.e. make something that will use up many of the things about to go off in your fridge. By preparing for it in advance you can make something great!
Buy funny-looking produce
It seems like a weird point, but did you know that a crazy amount of fruit and veggies get thrown away before even reaching the supermarkets because of their shape, colour and texture? My eyes literally popped out when I saw that the CURVE of bananas matter when shipping them to supermarkets – who the hell cares how curvy bananas are???
So when you’re next buying fresh produce, please get the things that don’t look super perfect, because they’re just as good as the rest and if no one buys them by the end of the day, they will end up in landfill.
In a restaurant – make wise choices
If you’re going out to eat, we occasionally get “hungry eyes” and want to try everything on the menu. That’s great if you’re with a bunch of people and you can share it all, but if you’re alone, don’t overdo it. Order just what you think you’re going to eat and if you’re still hungry afterwards, you can always order more!
Also, if you see that the menu says there are olives in your salad and you don’t like olives, please tell the waiter to leave them out. That way you won’t have to pick them out when your food arrives, and you will have saved 10 olives.
Lastly, if you can’t eat your whole meal, don’t stuff yourself, just take home the leftovers.
Make jam or pickles
In my house, I hardly ever use cauliflower and the only time I buy it is if I need to make raw sushi for someone, leaving me with a huge amount of leftover cauliflower. So what do I do? I give it to my grandmother who pickles it along with zucchinis, carrots and red peppers into a really great snack!
You can also make jam. Raw jam won’t last more than a week or two, but if you’re fine with cooked food, make traditional jam – it will last a long time, and you’ll be able to enjoy your home-made yumminess all year round.
Not much of an option if you eat raw food, the only thing I freeze are cakes and ice-cream, but if you eat cooked food, you can always freeze it if you feel it’s going off soon and would like to save it for a later date. Just make sure to clean the freezer out too once in a while, no point in putting something in there just to forget about it till next year.
Forget the expiration dates
The only food that actually requires expiration dates are baby formula, on everything else it’s just a guideline. That doesn’t mean that at midnight that day you must throw it away, it means that the food will taste best before this day, but if the colour and smell is still fine, it’s ok to eat it! Just use your judgement on this one, don’t throw things away needlessly.
Finally, compost if you can
Composting is a great way to use peeled skins and foods that are beyond saving as a useful resource. We used to have this great composting machine last year and it did wonders for the soil in the garden, but you don’t even need any special equipment, just have a look online at easy composting solutions. Just because the food can no longer be used, doesn’t mean it has to be thrown away.
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Oh yes, this is something I also care very much about, thank you!
~ Bernard Sleijster
Great information and very useful tips!I’m making my first steps at reducing my food waste and the statistics info was quite interesting. I got some great ideas to try at home, hope I’ll handle properly with what I’ve started. Thanks for this great post!