We know what a problem food waste can be, so let’s try to avoid it. I have some tips to share, but try asking relatives and friends as well, as you’ll find everyone has a few tricks.
Again, planning is key. Jot down a rough meal plan, factoring in any days you will be out for lunch or dinner. Don’t shop for food when you’re hungry, as you’re more likely to buy extra, and be clear on your personal guidelines: are crisps and biscuits staple items or occasional treats?
If you’re attempting to follow a recipe, think about whether you will use up the whole pack of the niche spice you’re buying for it. If not, see if you can omit it, or substitute it for something that won’t just go to waste after one dinner. I don’t think subbing yellow mustard seed for black will ruin a dish.
Then, take a moment to check where the food is coming from. We now have access to a range of fresh produce year-round, but that’s only because we’ve gotten used to importing things that don’t grow here in the winter (or ever!). Buying and then throwing out an overripe Mexican avocado or Kenyan berries in plastic is really an awful waste, so try to find alternatives, such as frozen goods.
Once you get the food home, take a few minutes to store it correctly to prolong its life. Store fresh herbs in a glass of water in the fridge, and keep bananas and apples separate from other fruits and vegetables, as they produce ethylene gas that can cause others to ripen or spoil faster.
Whole vegetables store better than cut ones, so if you use half of something, wrap it in a dish cloth or beeswax wrap and use it as soon as possible. Cook meat and fish as soon as you can – it’s better to buy less of it more frequently, or to freeze it if you can’t use it as quickly as you intended.
Speaking of freezing, it’s the simplest way to preserve foods. Some things I always have in my freezer are overripe bananas (peel them, break them in half and store in a reused zipper bag, then use them for smoothies, cakes or energy balls), extra portions of cooked beans or batch-prepared meals to thaw out when I’m short on time, excess tomato sauce or puree, and bread. Bread can be sliced and frozen for later, or stale bread can be crumbed and frozen for breading at a later date. Veg peelings can also be collected to cook into a stock.
One of my favourite quick and versatile recipes is pesto: use spinach, kale, carrot tops, nettles or any green, and process it with olive oil, garlic cloves, nuts of any kind (cashews, walnuts or traditional pine nuts work well), and parmesan, or nutritional yeast for vegans. This can go on pasta, be used as a dip or be incorporated into a lasagne, risotto or other dish that uses up extra veg.
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.