5 easy ways to cut food waste at home

Rotting food

Rotting food

Did you see the headlines yesterday saying that almost half the world’s food is thrown away? According to a new report from the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, between 1.2 and 2 billion tonnes of food produced around the world is never eaten. Instead, it’s thrown away by food producers, supermarkets and consumers.

Shocking, isn’t it? When you consider that, at the same time, 1 in 8 of us go to bed hungry every night, that figure becomes even more shocking.

There’s clearly lots going wrong with the way we grow, sell and buy food – and lots that needs to change. As the report points out, food waste happens in different parts of the world for different reasons. In developing countries, food often ends up going to waste because small farmers don’t have access to the right infrastructure for storing and transporting it.

However, in rich countries, food is wasted simply because it doesn’t meet supermarkets’ ‘attractiveness’ standards. In the UK alone, as much as one third of vegetable crops are just not harvested because they’re not ‘good-looking’ enough for supermarkets.Even when food makes it from supermarket to home, European and American consumers, encouraged to over-buy by BOGOF promotions, end up throwing away up to half of the food they buy.

My first reaction on reading these figures was disgust: in the 21st century, how can we tolerate such waste when hundreds of millions are going hungry? My second was, what the hell can I do?

There’s clearly a big role for supermarkets to play, and there are lots things our governments should be doing better. By its very definition, this kind of problem requires action at the systemic level.

But I also believe there are things we can do, as individuals, that will make a difference. There are simple steps we can all take in our everyday lives that will help to reduce the overall amount of food wasted in the world. As well as demanding that governments and companies take steps to cut down food waste, we can also show them that we mean business by doing the same.

So what can we do? There is SO much advice out there on how to cut down on food waste, but here are my top five suggestions:

  1. Plan your meals. Ok, this sounds boring, but by planning what you’ll eat and making shopping lists accordingly, you make sure you only buy and spend what you really have to. Knowing what you’re going to eat each night can also help take the stress out of cooking. There’s tons of advice out there on how to plan your meals – Oxfam’s Grow Method meal planner and shopping list template is a good place to start. Or check out Sian’s Plan for a more sophisticated meal-planning service.
  2. Love your leftovers. This one is much more fun. Instead of chucking leftover food in the bin, invent a whole new dish. If you need a bit of inspiration on what to do with your leftovers, take a look at Pinterest, where there are whole pinboards dedicated to leftovers recipes. This one, again from Oxfam’s Grow Method, had a lot of great ideas.
  3. Treat sell-by/use-by dates with scepticism. Michael White points out on the Guardian environment blog, the sell-by date is merely “an indication that food does not remain in tip-top condition for ever.” These dates are applied by supermarkets overly cautious about covering their own backs. Personally, I’ve always taken a pretty relaxed attitude to use-by dates – preferring to rely on my nose and my tongue to tell me if something is off. Obviously, be more careful with things like meat, but a bit of mould has never hurt anyone…
  4. Make sure you store food properly. A recent Oxfam report found that if we ate all the apples we bought, rather than letting them spoil, we’d save 5.3 billion apples in just one year. Just think what that means for all the other food we chuck away simply because we buy it and then don’t eat it. Want some tips on how to store food properly? Then check out this section of the Love Food Hate Waste website, all about proper food storage.
  5. Don’t be afraid of ugly fruit and veg. As this great blog post points out, misshapen veg is just as good as other veg. Although supermarkets are the principle culprits in demanding fresh produce be suitably ‘pretty’, if we weren’t so darn fussy ourselves it would make a difference.

For more great ideas on how to cut down on food waste, check out the Love Food Hate Waste website (www.lovefoodhatewaste.com). They have a brilliant selection of leftovers recipes, and a range of handy tools to help you calculate how much food you need and plan your meals.

How do you try to cut down how much food you waste? Do you have any great leftovers recipes? If you do, please become a pinner on this collaborative pin board, and share your favourite recipes: http://bit.ly/13n8oet

[This is an expanded version of a blog I wrote for Oxfam’s Grow blog site. Check out the original version here: http://oxf.am/37Z]