This week has been Zero Waste Week, with the focus being on food waste and the theme has been ‘use it up!’
Now I wouldn’t say we’re prolific food wasters, but the occasional stale end of bread, slushy cucumber or forgotten tub of hummus does emerge from the cupboard/fridge past the point of no return from time to time. More often than I’d like.
I learned something interesting about myself this year when we moved house. Earlier this year, we moved from an area where the council provided a food waste collection service to one without, meant for a short time before the arrival of the compost bins, our peelings, teabags and the occasional slip up were going in the regular bin. And I felt SO guilty! Which made me realise that I had been chucking food waste in the special food waste bin and feeling absolved of at least some of the guilt of wasting food because it wasn’t going to landfill. But I was still wasting food! Cue lightbulb moment: if I’m throwing away something that could have been eaten had I planned ahead/not bought on a whim/forgotten about, regardless of whether it becomes compost or landfill, that’s not actually OK!
Now in our new home, having a freezer for the first time in four years has made a massive difference, and this combined with having to manage our own food waste (rather than throwing it in a food waste bin and letting someone else deal with it), means we are doing better now. But not perfect.
So for Zero Waste Week, I made a proper effort. Getting a bit experimental, a coriander and walnut pesto, inspired by this recipe by The Garlic Diaries, saved a bunch of coriander leftover from a curry from going slightly floppy. Delicious with roast potatoes given to us from our neighbour’s allotment 🙂
Next, a raid on the forgotten pots of pasta sauce in the freezer and the veg languishing in the salad crisper drawer – three chard, courgette and sweet potato lasagnes! It was whilst conceiving this dish I realised where I’m going wrong when I thought “ooh, I could go get some mushrooms for this”, before realising I had loads of stuff here already. And what I had thought was going to be one lasagne actually turned out rather bigger…
And a few unexpected but delicious salads, mixing beetroot, sweet potato, hazelnuts, goat cheese, artichokes, one accompanied by a single slice of leftover pizza and another with some mash potato. The latter of which was odd, but not undelicious.
At the end of the week, as a result of my new stricter policy of not buying what I feel like until I’ve used what we already have, our avoidable food waste has been almost zero! Just two plums that over-ripened to mould quicker than expected.
So, my tips to take forward from Zero Waste Week are:
- If you have space for a freezer, definitely get one! If you don’t, be realistic about how many times you’re really going to want to eat that same dish before it goes off. Cooking in bulk isn’t economical if it’s just going to expire because you can’t face another batch of chilli.
- Composting food is better than landfill, but it’s no substitute for actually eating the food in the first place.
- Experiment! Learning to cook is a process, and one you get better at every time you try something new. I didn’t start properly cooking until after I left home (I had no idea that shepherds pie didn’t come in a box until I was 18) and now it’s one of my favourite things to do.
- Take inspiration from others (quick plug to my Pinterest boards where I have found loads of great vegetarian and vegan recipes from bloggers and professionals that have vastly expanded my repertoire and taste buds).
- A good selection of dried herbs and spices (oregano, paprika and chipotle powder make pretty much any savoury food more delicious) and some good condiments (soy sauce, liquid smoke, pesto) can transform bland food into something decidedly edible.
So why not give your bin (whatever kind it is) a break and see what you can save from your fridge next week too? After all Zero Waste Week is for life, not just for Christmas (or September)!