Wasting food is dumb. Did that really need clarifying? Probably not, but there it is anyway - I think its so dumb that I was genuinely thrilled to be asked to write about it for The Clean Collective blog.
So this is a recent piece on food waste full of practical advice wedged between paragraphs of indulgent introspection. Enjoy!
Buying things that have taken energy to produce only for them to end up in the bin because of disorganisation is unacceptable on paper, but somehow one of those things none of us can avoid. How crazy, right? Insulting to your wallet, insulting to your mouth, and seemingly impossible to avoid in 21st-century cities. But this doesn’t have to be the case! Traditional humans were actually very good at food conservation, and we can definitely recover our foregone appreciation for nutritional sustenance. Phenomenal food waste is a frightening feature of the modern world, but something we can all reduce - easily - in our own lives.
I’ve been thinking about how we’ve changed the way we feed ourselves over time. I guess we’ve been evolving beyond subsistence for ages, but is that only because of commerce? Does the beginning of trade then also mark the beginning of our disconnection with food? Scientists haven’t quite nailed precisely what the ‘disconnect’ is, though its being talked about a lot. It’s like everyone knows we’ve lost touch with food as ‘energy supplied to us from earth’, but everything new is so damn delicious and easily accessible that we’re pretending that’s not a problem.
Because it’s not as if we don’t work for our food anymore. We do; it’s just that ‘work’ is now ‘data entry’ or ‘management consultancy’, as opposed to ‘hunting/killing/skinning/filleting/ cooking’ or ‘planting/growing/harvesting/cooking’. I guess we still access the cooking part, but even that sometimes feels like a retro-antiquated thing to do in 21st-century-food culture. Job = money = food, stop kicking against the current Rols! Lift your legs up and float downstream, why fight the tide?
Well, I guess because it’s a bit frightening to think how recent it still is. How severe the inversion of our food consciousness has been, but only in the last... 200 of our 200000 years? 0.1% of the homo sapien existence, but apparently there’s no turning back from our new modern standards now! Hmm.
I guess if someone was out there simulating the hunting experience in virtual reality - and receiving money for it - that might bridge the gap. I always wonder if harvesting one’s own food genuinely triggers a physiological benefit that science just hasn’t identified or explained yet? Imagine that! What a future! Goggles and mask on for a virtual hunting experience that will give all your systems a boost and change the way you digest the 3D- printed food you bought that day from a store (with your wages). Reckon that’ll be a thing? You heard it here first.
Yeah, I think about food quite a lot. How much do you think about food? Do you give conscious consideration to the honest source of every mouthful? Or do you sometimes take handfuls of popcorn bigger than you know your gob can accommodate but still try shoving it all in anyway, making you spill a bunch on the floor in the process? The first one? Oh.. I mean yeah fully, me too. I mean I’m a bit the second one as well but only sometimes. Mostly the first one. I think.
Ahh man, food is hard! I feel like we’ve microbiologically defined input and output for human health that makes it seem as simple as fuel in a car. Put the right stuff in and the car will work great for a very long time, but could be quickly and badly damaged by the wrong choice at the bowser. Except the bowser only has 3 pumps! Supermarkets literally have tens of thousands of different things to eat (depending on how ‘hard’ you’ve been ‘working’ I guess).
Look don’t get me wrong, I got no probs with supermarkets. Love me a woolies, love me a Harris farm, love me a tiny IGA in a coastal town. But the potentiality for bodily and environmental harm in a supermarket is breathtaking. Stacks of boxes of factory-produced food in individual plastic wrappers, and not a recyclable-packaging mandate or waste reform in sight. Puts the environmentally-conscious city-dweller in a constant moral mindmelt, let me tell you.
Scary shops and political inactivity aside, food is an individual experience, pursuant to whatever moral code it is that separates you from everyone else. Food choices are about feeling your guts shift, when you think about all those edible leftovers you’ve thrown out over the years, or simply smell the food you’ve been subconsciously letting rot in the back corner of the fridge. Feeling that gut pulse when you think about all the world’s hungry people and the energy it takes to produce food, whilst Australian households alone - not including hospitality - waste about $8billion of edible food every year.
We can all make wiser choices to reduce our food waste, and we owe it to one another to do so. That’s what’s this whole thing is about, yeah? Remembering “I am still an animal in an ecosystem, and until very recently I used to have to conserve food before warehouse- sized shops existed in every suburb”.
Here we go!
1. Sort yourself out and get organised
You know what I mean. There’s a tonne of basic loose ends we can all tie up that will dramatically reduce our food wastage. To start with, turning “what do I feel like eating today” into “what do I feel like eating this week”. Yes Rols, this is going to mean going beyond a snack-of-the-hour approach and having a proper think about your consumption.Plan meals, write lists. Does your mouth have eyes? Neither does mine, so lets get over our obsession with perfect produce. Aesthetics doesn’t have anything to do with flavour!
Hmm, what else. Make sure you’re following a first-in, first-out fridge philosophy. Eat seasonally. Understand that ‘best-before’ doesn’t mean ‘use-by’. I mean, basics, right? Easy, right?! Sort this stuff out and you’ll be shopping, eating and SAVING like a boss. That’s right, food in the bin = money in the bin. Less food in the bin = more money in your wallet. Duh.
2. Freeze freeze freeze
Remember the freezer? That magical box that basically hits the pause button on food expiration? It’s weird, I almost think freezers are part of the reason we’ve disconnected from food. Like by blowing all previous preservation methods so far out of the water, we basically began cheating the food game and forgot all about the need to preserve in the first place. Is that a silly thing to think? Probably. Regardless, the freezer remains the food- saver’s best friend. Mixed veges, muffins, full meals; fang it in the freezer for a flavourful future. Start doubling recipes and freezing half: guaranteed low-stress lifesaver during those frantic late-work evenings.
3. Get some gadgets
Good toys in the kitchen can have a dramatic effect on your food efficiency. Here’s a few basics:
Swag bag. This is a new gizmo and a total game-changer. Using patented fabric-layering breathability, this natural and ethically-produced bag will keep your fruit and veges fresher for longer, to the tune of weeks. Weeks! These bags are LEGIT. Guaranteed to turbo charge your dietary sustainability efforts and save you serious time and dosh in unnecessary grocery shopping. My all time fave.
Spiraliser. This clever little friend peels veges into delicious ribbons of different shapes that are epic additions to salads and meals. Helps make delicious use of small vegetable offcuts, encourages kids (and childish adults) to eat veges with novelty appearance and delightful colours. Coming into summer especially, a spiraliser will turbocharge those Buddha bowls and push your food prep game to an all-time high.
Pressure or Slow cooker. An essential for the kitchen to extract the true potential of your leftovers. Heaps of random veges knocking on the expiration door? Chuck them all in with some water and spices to set-and-forget a warming soup. Leftover bone too big to give to the dog? Make a broth to give you and your family a collagen boost for some seriously angelic skin. If you want to really push the boat out, get a Thermomix and make sorbets from your old fruit as well.
Stick blender. Remember how we talked about getting over picture-perfect fresh produce? A stick blender will help you moosh aesthetic requirements into the past, by whizzing the soups you make to a mouth-watering texture and chopping up ageing food into delish sauces and dips. All of which can be frozen. Hopefully you’re starting to feel that there’s a rhythm going on here yeah?
4. Cook smart
Food waste relies on being honest with yourself. Every time I throw out food I wonder what I could have done with it to avoid it ending up in the bin. I hate feeling that all the energy to plant, grow, harvest, process, transport, sell and refrigerate that food was all for me to just end up staring down at it like a guilty zombie lost in thought about missed opportunities. That feeling sucks. Anyone else?
Cooking smart prevents this situation, because there’s always something I could have done. Soups and stocks as per the above, smart. Pickling vegetables into delicious kimchi and other ferments that my guts will love. Smart. Did you know that salt, spices, water and clean veges is literally all it takes to pickle? Yep, the KISS-philosophy is a dependable roadmap for culinary intellect. And of course there are a bajillion recipes online to get you cooking intelligently and feeling smug about how low your food-waste footprint has become.
5. Keep track
So this whole honesty thing is what’s really underpinning our food waste, yeah? Honesty with ourselves, about how much thought we’re putting into our consumption, and how much effort were putting into reducing our waste. Starting a food journal is an easy way to
measure your success (or quantify some motivation, depending on how you want to look at it).
Start keeping a record of what you’re throwing out each day. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but a note in your phone at the very least, noting down all the things in the bin that could have been in your belly. No one else has to see it, so be honest! This way you’ll know exactly where you’re at in terms of using all the food you’ve prepared, and then you’ll be able to begin thinking laterally about how you could reduce the wasted bits. Broccoli stalks? Chop them up next time for nutrient-packed dipping sticks. Overripe tomatoes? Smash them up and freeze them for the next time you need a pasta base.
And look, to wrap up can we go back to that thing that we do often forget about food? Aside from wasted resources, it’s wasted money, plain and simple. Your money! That you worked really hard for! There are a million and one reasons to reduce your food waste, but among the environmental impetus that’s gotta be near the top. There’s $8 billion up for grabs here, claim your share! We’re all in this together and it’s going to take effort from every Australian to pull back on our senseless waste of edible food.
Remember, every bit counts!!!