WASTE OF MONEY AND ENERGY Around 40 percent of the waste that the average Irish household produces every year is organic waste – mostly food.
Batch cooking is a great way to reduce the amount of food you bin
Imagine spending an afternoon collecting blackberries, combining them with sugar, flour and other ingredients, baking a lovely tart, taking it out of the oven to cool, and right when it’s ready to eat, turning around and tossing it into a bin, never to be enjoyed by anyone.
Most of us aren’t doing this with food that we put several hours’ effort into cooking from scratch, but we are quite accustomed to doing a weekly shop and dumping a good amount of it. According to the EPA, of the nearly one tonne of waste that the average Irish household produces on an annual basis, approximately 40 percent is organic waste.
Food waste is a massive environmental issue, due to the land area, water and agricultural inputs (including large amounts of chemicals) dedicated to producing food that is then harvested, stored, processed, packaged, transported and chilled, only for it to be discarded. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation has calculated that if food waste at all stages of the supply chain were counted as a country, it would be third only to China and the USA as the largest emitter of greenhouse gases globally.
Most food that we are used to seeing advertised and stocked on supermarkets shelves is heavily processed – think of farm-fresh potatoes preserved only by dirt, versus potatoes that have been washed, packed and imported, or even potato products, such as crisps, frozen chips, ready-to-eat mashed potatoes, etc. This affects not only the amount of energy that is required to produce these foods, but also the nutritional qualities they offer us, as nutrients are generally degraded during processing.
I’m a working parent and understand that many of us are under intense pressure to plan meals, buy ingredients and cook in what little time is left at the end of a long day. However, it is possible to choose minimally processed foods and prepare them so they will be ready to eat through the week, for lunch or dinner.
Batch cooking at the weekend is a technique many, including myself, advocate: plan and cook three meals, and then portion them out for dinner or lunch – or even to freeze for a later date.
Or, cook a few staple ingredients that can be used in several ways: chickpeas can be stirred into a curry or soup or made into hummus for sandwiches or dipping. Grains like rice or barley are handy to serve as a side or base for nearly any meal. Omelettes, soups, casseroles and curries, burritos or noodle dishes are great for using up veg and grains.
Speaking of leftovers, plan in at least one night to clean out the fridge (and have a night off from cooking). I have happy memories of Thursdays growing up, when we were allowed to eat any combination of the leftovers from meals from the week, just to ensure nothing was wasted!
Next time we will cover some more tips for preventing food waste.
McKinley Neal co-runs PAX Whole Foods & Eco Goods, a minimal-waste shop in Westport offering bulk organic foods, reusable goods, household products, eco-friendly personal care items and gifts.