Why is it so hard to not waste food?
For me, the festive season is a time of feasts, family and celebration. But it can also be a time of excess and waste. So during November I decided to challenge myself to a No Food Waste Challenge, to see if it was possible to actually use the food I have in my fridge and pantry before it went off.
I’m a pretty responsible person when it comes to wasting money on unnecessary shit. My wardrobe is pretty minimalist and I hate clutter in my home. But when it comes to food, I often find myself blowing through my salary, stocking up on delicious-looking fresh produce. And because of this, I often end up with way too much food, and way too much food waste.
When I was little, my gran would often chide: “Don’t waste your food!” But is it possible? Here’s what I learnt:
Take what you need
When I took on this challenge, my first frustration was the fact that supermarkets force me to purchase produce in large quantities. Sure, I can grab loose onions and potatoes, but most foods are pre-packed for a family of four. When I lived in Cape Town I’d shop at the Oranjezicht market, only selecting the exact amounts that I’d need for the week’s menu, but I don’t have that same flexibility now.
One solution is to hit the shops with a meal plan. It’s a bit tedious to work out but it has honestly saved me so much time and effort, especially since I now also have to plan meals for the baba. I’d normally think of three or four meal ideas in a week, and plan these so that the ingredients overlap. That way I know I’ll be able to use up all my produce.
Freeze for the future
Batch cooking has become my life now that my baby is on solids. I’ll whip up a big pot of bolognese mince or chicken stew, divide it into smaller portions and pop it in the freezer. Aside from saving me time and energy during the week, these stews are a fantastic way to use up ingredients in my fridge that might be on the turn. A slightly soft carrot or squishy tomato works perfectly in a soup. Another hack is to pre-cook sauces to thaw and use with grilled fish, chicken, or pasta.
Grow your own
The first thing I was forced to throw aways was some coriander that had gone off in the fridge. Herbs are a notorious wastage in my kitchen and this challenge once again inspired me to pack as many as possible into my garden. Many herbs like basil and coriander work well in pots, while rosemary, thyme and oregano are easy growers in a garden.
Don’t just hit refresh
While I’d love to blame the system for my food waste habits, this challenge showed me that the problem lies at home. The main issue is that I simply love buying new food. Freshly stacked shelves of citrus, juicy tomatoes and crisp lettuce are my kryptonite. Too frequently I want to refresh my fridge without finishing what I have.
It’s even worse when it comes to my pantry – that dark hole of a cupboard where packs of lentils go to die. Going into this challenge I decided to unpack everything and reorganise my shelves so that I could see exactly what I had at a quick glance. Now I try to consciously plan meals with my pantry staples in mind.
In the end I might have failed in the challenge, but I do think that the exercise revealed my own bad habits and pitfalls. Hopefully going forward I can grow into a more sustainable foodie.