Food waste is one of the biggest issues of our time. 250,000 tonnes of the food that goes to waste every year in the UK is still edible – enough for 650 million meals (WRAP report, 2018). This has a huge financial cost, amounting to £700 for the average family with children. Household waste also equates to 70% of all food waste, with vegetables and potatoes the single most wasted foods. As part of the United Nations’ sustainable development goals, the UK Government has committed to halving the UK’s per capita food waste by 2030.
We need drastic systemic change at the policy level and at the supply chain level (especially in the wasteful and resource intensive animal agriculture industries) to tackle this widespread issue. However, there is always more we can do at an individual level to reduce our food-wasting habits. Here are some tips to help.
Plant-based foods use less resources than animal foods
Adopting a plant-based diet is a step we can take towards preventing food waste, as feeding animals to meet the insatiable appetite for meat is hugely inefficient. Animal agriculture, which is thought to cause 14.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions, is responsible for the most losses of all harvested crops. In 2019, the EAT-Lancet Commission led by a panel of 37 experts concluded that a reduction in meat consumption is crucial in order to improve human and planetary health. The report recommended a shift to a predominantly plant-based diet as a way to reduce our carbon footprint, feed the world’s growing population, and prevent 11 million deaths per year. Poor diet remains the leading cause of death around the world
Eat more plant-based meals
Ditching meat and dairy is the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet earth according to Oxford University. Swap meat for climate-friendly proteins such as beans and lentils or vegan alternatives if you prefer, swap cow’s milk for fortified soya or oat milk and try a tofu scramble rather than eggs for breakfast.
Batch cook and be flexible with recipes
When you’re making something like a vegetable stew or curry, throw in any vegetables you have in your fridge like a spare carrot or a red pepper that’s seen better days. One-pot dishes are ideal for batch-cooking which reduces overall energy use, saves time and provides you with delicious leftovers for the next day.
Store vegetables properly.
It is a good idea to store onions and potatoes separately. If you forget to do this, potatoes start sprouting quickly as onions produce and emit ethylene gas. Always store in a cool, dry place, not the fridge. It’s a good idea to store any fresh perishable produce such as berries and greens in the crisper drawer as these drawers help trap moisture.
Treat fresh herbs like a bouquet of flowers
Store tender herbs such as coriander, mint or parsley in glass jars in the fridge filled with a couple of inches of fresh water. Snip off the ends of the stems before you do this. Covering the herbs loosely with a plastic bag prevents them from drying out and browning – just remember to replace the water every day.
Use the whole vegetable where you can
Hold onto broccoli stalks – they’re the most fibre-packed part of the vegetable. Chop them up and use in curries, pasta sauce or stews – they have a really delicious and mild flavour and aren’t as easy to overcook as florets. You can also use them in a vegetable soup or stock if you prefer. Don’t throw away the tough stems of dark leafy greens either – they’re great in a stir-fry. My go-to combination is any leafy green stems plus sautéed garlic, soya sauce (or tamari if gluten-free) and a squeeze of lime.
Get into fermentation
Pickling and fermenting vegetables and other ingredients is an age-old food preservation technique that is affordable and requires no fancy equipment. The science of fermentation is understood as a chemical process by which food is exposed to bacteria, yeasts or other microorganisms which preserve it. Fermentation can actually improve the nutritional value of food, increasing their vitamin, mineral and antioxidant content, while also providing probiotic bacteria that are beneficial for our gut microbiome. Many everyday foods are fermented such as vinegar, chocolate and sourdough bread. Try making homemade pickles, my spiced pickled red onions, sauerkraut or kimchi for an umami-rich, gut-friendly addition to meals.
Donate your food
Apps such as Olio have made it easier than ever to donate unused food items for free. There are often opportunities to donate food via mutual aid groups and local food banks. If you are connected to your neighbours and other members of the community, this is another great way to share food that would have otherwise gone to waste. Just always make sure the food you donate is safe to eat and has been stored correctly.
Compost your food
Almost half of the food waste in the average rubbish bin could have been composted rather than breaking down in landfills and producing methane gas, which contributes to the climate crisis. Composting is the breaking down of organic material to create compost, which supports plant growth and brings nutrients back to the soil. Many local authorities, especially in London, provide free food waste caddies and collections for households but it’s also easy to learn to compost at home. This has the added benefit of not requiring transport in the process and is beneficial for the soil in your garden.
If you found this useful or have any other tips to share with the community, please do comment below or share the link with a friend or family member who might benefit as well.