This week sees the first ever national week of action here in the UK, that focuses on fighting food waste. Running from 1-7th March, Food Waste Action Week is led by WRAP, a leading sustainable living and waste reduction charity, best known for their Love Food Hate Waste campaign.
Food waste is a huge issue and whilst I think we can all agree that wasting food, in a world where so many still go hungry is scandalous, what might not be as obvious is the very real and negative impact that food waste has on the climate. According to WRAP, if food waste was a country, it’d be the third biggest contributor of CO2 after China and USA. Around a third of the food produced worldwide is lost or wasted and that contributes to around 8–10% of total man-made greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Research revealed this week, showed that the UK’s supermarkets are throwing away the equivalent of 190 million meals a year with the latest data shockingly suggesting that Britain’s top ten supermarkets are donating less than 9% of their surplus food for human consumption. At a household level, homes produce around 70 percent of the UK’s 9.5 million tonnes of food waste every year and restaurants – when up and running in more typical times – produce around 200,000 tonnes of food waste annually. So if food waste exacerbates inequality and contributes heavily to climate change, then who’s responsibility is it to tackle this meaty, or not so meaty issue, whatever the food waste might be?
The answer is of course – as it tends to be with most issues of global significance – is everyone’s. There are things that can and should be done at all levels; governments, businesses, households and individuals that would make a huge difference to tackling food waste. The challenge lays in helping those different parts of the system, especially businesses and households to make those changes in everyday lives and business operations. I’d like to think that when it comes to preventing food waste, the will is already there – who would want to deliberately waste food afterall? But what is quite likely missing is the way. Certainly here in the UK, our reliance on pre-packaged, easily accessible food and lifestyles geared more toward convenience and speed than ever before, the systems in place make food waste an all too easy and likely outcome. More attention in recent years on other waste issues like plastic may well have led to the misguided belief that food waste, if not wrapped in single use packaging, is not really a problem, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. And yet, knowing all of this I will still admit that it’s not easy to manage the amount of food waste produced in the home.
One of the many reasons why I was so pleased to take on the allotment plot and to give grow your own a go, was because I hoped it would help me reduce food waste. It happens all too easily – buying that bag of salad or veg from the supermarket and before you know it, its a slushy mess at the bottom of your fridge – unfinished, unused, unnecessary waste. Being able to pick the right amount of fresh salads/vegetables/herbs needed for a meal has been game changing but I’m not naïve enough to think that everybody in the UK can, should or will convert 100% to the Good Life. That’s why campaigns like Food Waste Action Week are key in helping to raise awareness and give people simple ways to make small changes that collectively will make a big difference.
As for the supermarkets – I’m not one to blanketly bash big business over the head but I’m not afraid to give criticism where its due either. I’ve worked in corporate sustainability for over a decade and I know first-hand how hard it can be to affect change at scale. I also know that there are dedicated and passionate people within those businesses (and not only in the sustainability department) who are committed to doing the right thing. But that being said, it doesn’t feel like the pace of change to put right something that is so obviously wrong, like food waste, is where it needs to be. Thinking of the UK alone, how can our supermarkets be throwing away 190 million meals a year and yet we have a food poverty crisis on our hands, exasperated by the pandemic, when at a points during lockdown it was reported that 1.5 million people had gone without food for an entire day because of no access to food or money and 3 million people were in households where someone had been forced to skip meals. I have no doubt that the supermarkets stepped in and helped in some way to ease the pressure off foodbanks at this critical time, but surely this cannot be a solution, short term, or otherwise.
Sainsbury’s was recently announced as a principal partner for COP26, the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) which will take place in Glasgow in November. One of the UK’s “big four” supermarkets, Sainsbury’s has made a commitment to become net-zero by 2040 – meaning that there’s balance in the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere and the amount taken from the atmosphere, something that can be done through nature, for example reforestation and rewilding programmes remove carbon dioxide and certain habitats act as a carbon store, or through new technologies. And yet in it’s latest Corporate Responsibility report, its target for food waste is “to plan to reduce food waste by 50 per cent by 2030”. I have no doubt there are complexities and challenges in tackling food waste in global distribution systems but I also know that I would much rather be reading “we commit to eradicating food waste by 2030 at the latest”. That being said, it can’t be left to the supermarkets to deal with this issue and so in the spirit of all doing our bit and in support of Food Waste Action Week, here are some of my favourite tricks and tips to cut food waste at home and I’d love to hear yours in the comments too.
Happy Food Waste Action Week!
Plan, plan, plan
Meal planning is easier and more fun than it sounds (honestly) and without question it is the one thing that drastically reduces the amount of food waste in my house. This was something that I was introduced to from a young age and I can remember as a child how much I enjoyed sitting down and being part of choosing our menu for the coming week which was then lovingly drawn or should I say scrawled onto a piece of paper and stuck proudly on the fridge door for all to see. Each member of the family was allowed to pick a meal of their choice so it was a sure fire way to guarantee the weekly fishfinger, chips and peas, plus it meant that come dinner time during the busy working week, there were no if’s nor but’s – we all knew what was for dinner, taking pressure off the household chef – no more frantically trying to figure out what to have and helping to make the weekly shop cheaper, more focused and waste free. No rotting veg or out of date fish, everything planned, prepped and enjoyed.
Know your labels
Labelling on packaging – intended to make our lives easier by giving us all the information we need to make informed decisions – has quite possibly had the exact opposite effect, leaving most people utterly perplexed and disengaged by the info-crammed labels on food packets. That being said there are two key bits of labelling that really should be understood. Too often I have near wrestled a packet from a friend’s hand, destined for the bin because of the misunderstanding that something that is Best Before 01.01.2021 needs to be binned on 02.01.2021.
Let’s be clear on this; use-by dates are about safety. Foods can be eaten until the use-by date but not after and they shouldn’t be frozen after that date either. Even if it smells and looks ok, you’re taking a risk if you cook and eat food after the use-by date so better to double down on the meal planning and make sure that food is used before it reaches this date.
Best before dates are about quality. Sometimes shown as BBE (best before end), this date is an indication of when you can expect that product to be at the highest level of quality. After this, the food will still be safe to eat but the flavour or texture may not be at its prime.
Don’t leave the rind behind
Even when you think you’ve got to the end of that delicious block of Parmesan, it’s not over. The rind is packed with flavour and it’ll take your ragu (or bolognaise sauce) , cheese sauce or risotto to the next level. Just add the rind to the ragu when its slowly cooking away and remove before serving. For risotto, simmer the rind in the stock ahead of using to make the risotto and for a cheese sauce with extra punch, simmer the rind in the milk ahead of thickening with the béchamel and adding the cheddar cheese.
Put peelings in the pot
I’m really looking forward to putting my first ever compost bins into good use at the allotment (sometimes I don’t know who I am anymore…) and that’ll definitely help with kitchen peelings and scraps. But up until starting the composting journey, I’ve been a fan of using vegetable peelings to add flavour to homemade stocks. My simple stock recipe is really adaptable and I would highly recommend chucking in veg peels if you have them as part of your stock making. One word of caution though – don’t invite red onion to the party or you’ll end up with a not very appealing colour.
Take on the Root to Shoot Challenge
A couple of years back there was a lot of buzz on the dining scene about zero-waste restaurants. Silo, originally founded in Brighton but now located in the painfully trendy Hackney Wick in London, was founded by ex-Noma chef Dan Gibeon and is the epitome of the genius and torture of creating a truly zero-waste menu and restaurant. The lengths that Dan and the team at Silo have gone to are exceptional and whilst I have no intention to even try to aim for that level; milling their own flour on site, churning their own butter on site, making their own oat milk on site – all in order to cut the waste of transportation packaging – I do think there is some inspiration to be taken from their practice of root to shoot. The ethos of making use of every part of a plant or animal is primitive and yet it’s been lost in our pursuit of more stuff, more quickly, more cheaply. Since I’ve started growing my own, I’ve definitely gained a greater appreciation of using as much if not all of a crop as possible – after all the work, effort and worry of nurturing something from seed to harvest, it seems utterly sacrilegious to not be eating the whole thing so I’m always on the look out for recipes that make the most of a crop.
What to do with Beetroot Tops
Chef and climate change campaigner Tom Hunt’s recipe for a zesty middle Eastern inspired dip, Beetroot Tops Borani, is the perfect way to put the stems and leaves to good use. Tom is the chef founder of multi-award-winning Poco Tapas Bar, revered for its Root to Fruit approach to cooking, seasonality and zero-waste achievement and his cookbook “Eating for Pleasure, People and Planet is packed with ideas of how to reduce food waste and create delicious dishes.
Beetroot Tops Borani
Serves 4 as a snack or 2 as a starter with bread
- 1 bunch (about 120g) beetroot stalks and leaves, washed
- 1 small clove garlic, pureed
- A few glugs of extra virgin olive oil
- 100g thick full fat yoghurt or soya yoghurt
- 1/8 lemon, zest and juiced
- 1 tsp za’atar or dried mint
- 25g walnuts, crushed into large pieces (optional)
- 2 whole wheat pita bread to serve
Slice the beetroot leaves and stalks finely. Place in a thick based frying pan with a glug of extra virgin olive oil and pinch of salt. Place on a low-medium heat with a lid on top. After a few minutes, give them a quick stir, return the lid and cook for a further minute. Remove the lid, add half the garlic, and keep stirring until the juices have mostly evaporated. Remove from the pan and allow to cool.
When cold, mix the cooked beetroot leaves with the yoghurt, remaining garlic and lemon zest and juice. Season to taste.
Serve in a bowl, sprinkled with za’atar or dried mint if using, a sprinkle of crushed walnuts if using and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Eat with toasted whole wheat pita bread and or seasonal crudites. I like to make crudites out of the parts of vegetables that often get thrown away.
What to do with Leek Tops
Crispy leek top garnish – chop the tops as finely as you can, heat 2 good glugs of oil in a pan or wok until very hot. Add the leeks and sizzle until mega crispy. Lift out with a slotted spoon, lay on absorbent kitchen roll. Sprinkle with salt and maybe even some dried chilli if you like a kick and use as a garnish on stir fries, noodle dishes and soups.