Monday, 18 September 2017

Waste Less Live More

This is Keep Britain Tidy's 'Waste Less Live More' week.

Over the course of the next seven days we are encouraged to try out different things so that we create less food waste.

I'm very interested in this challenge as I reckon I'm pretty fastidious when it comes to reducing food waste at home. However, I know there are areas that need improvement as my grey food waste caddy is never empty.

Throughout this week, I'll share Keep Britain Tidy's advice with you. I'll let you know how I'm getting on with the challenge and I'll share what the experience has taught me.

Monday: Buy some wonky veg

Sweet potato
This sweet potato is the wonkiest vegetable
I could find in Peterborough Waitrose.
It's just begging to have a face drawn on it.

Monday's challenge is to buy mis-shapen food!

This doesn't sound like much of a challenge, but apparently supermarkets and greengrocers throw away a lot of fruit and veg each day because we consumers won't buy anything that's not the 'standard' shape. Isn't that crazy? All potatoes are equal when they're mashed!

I'm obviously a bit odd, because I prefer mis-shapen food. In fact, I find it hilarious. A weird-looking carrot in the supermarket crate makes me want to buy that one! Different is special in my book.

So I went to the supermarket and took up the challenge.

I use different supermarkets depending on where I am and what I'm doing that day. On this occasion I went to the Waitrose by Peterborough rail station.

What I found there genuinely shocked me:

Waitrose in Peterborough does not sell mis-shapen vegetables!

Everywhere I looked I saw perfectly straight (or perfectly rounded) fruit and veg.

And it gets worse. The majority of fruit and veg on sale was in plastic wrapping.

And it gets worse still. A lot of the fruit and veg has clocked up considerable travel miles to get here.

So this isn't just about the food that supermarkets discard based on shape, it has also brought home to me how the choices we make have a direct effect on our planet through the carbon footprint created by our food.

The only vaguely mis-shapen veg I found was the sweet potato shown above. Everything else was depressingly 'standard'. Oh dear, what have we become and what will become of us if we don't change our silly ways?

So even after one day, Keep Britain Tidy's Campaign has had an effect on me: I'm now obsessed with only buying wonky veg.

Three straight carrots
No wonky carrots in Waitrose.

Tuesday: Perfect your portions

Today we're being encouraged to think as we cook and only make as much food as we need.

I've become pretty good at cooking the right amount of food and not wasting any. The problem tends to happen when my cooking 'goes wrong' and I have to throw out the inedible burned mess I just made and start over (I'm getting better with practice).

I'm fortunate to live with both a man and a dog who have very high tolerance when it comes to meals that didn't quite turn out the way I intended. If I can't or won't eat what's on my plate then there is a high chance that one of my housemates will. This means that what goes in my food waste caddy does tend to be genuinely inedible, yet there is still too much going in there.

Looks cute, will hoover up virtually anything put in his path - if I let him, which I don't.
Scraps from the table is a naughty habit and not good for him other than very occasionally.

I have a condition that makes swallowing a problem at times and this has meant I've had to adjust my own portions recently. I can't eat a lot of bread or meat, for example, and I have to chew my food a lot to make sure it goes down. A positive consequence of this has been that it has forced me to think about portions more carefully and I've developed a good habit of not cooking more food than I can realistically cope with at one sitting.

Attempts to regulate my diet also mean I'm in the habit of weighing some of my foods to keep the calorie intake down. This also helps me to avoid food waste.

Weighing out 75g of pasta
Weighing your food can be a helpful way of getting portion sizes right.
75g is the right amount of pasta for one person.

Another good habit I recently picked up from my partner is keeping leftovers for another time. This may sound like an obvious thing to do. However, I was brought up in a household where leftovers were always put in the bin, never re-used. As an adult in charge of what I do eat and don't eat it has taken some effort for me to change my attitude towards uneaten food but I'm quite proud to say I've done it. We have a range of air-tight plastic tubs in our kitchen of various sizes. Now, when we're full, the leftover food goes into one of these and into the fridge to be eaten the following day.

Bought more fresh meat than your meal requires?
You can freeze it for several months.

If I realise that I've bought too much of a particular meat, I pop it into a plastic bag and freeze it. Most meats are good for several months if frozen (defrost fully in the fridge before use and eat that day). This is another thing my family never used to do and means I save quite a lot of money as well as reducing food waste.

How you're brought up really influences your attitude to food waste. I'd never fully appreciated this before thinking about it just now.

Wednesday: Have a use-it-up night

Today's challenge has me feeling all pleased with myself as it's something I've been doing for a while now. As you can read in this blog post, for a few years I lived in poverty with very little money for food. During this time, no food at all was ever wasted and I will probably now carry this habit with me forever.

Potato in a fridge
We can all find ourselves struggling for money to buy food.
Knowing how to make the most of what we've got is a key life skill.

I cook the meals in our household and meal plans start by looking in the fridge to see what needs to be eaten before it spoils and making a meal based around that ingredient but without purchasing any other ingredients if I can avoid it.

My partner makes the occasional Sunday roast and when he does we always eat the leftover roast potatoes with whatever meal we're having the following day.

Mind you, this advice from Keep Britain Tidy has got me thinking about whether I can use leftover food more creatively: vegetables and meat can be added into pretty much any dish - the easiest is adding them to pasta, flung onto pastry for a tart or chucked into a curry. Pasta and rice can be put into oven bakes, salads and wraps. Potatoes can be fried up as a side dish or turned into hash browns or latkes.

Hmm. Food for thought.

Thursday: Make a list

Making a shopping list is rarely a problem. Sticking to one is another matter.

We know the supermarkets invest heavily in research to discover how product placement within their stores influences our shopping choices. We may think we're creatures of habit but we're also creatures of impulse and we like variety. So it takes a strong will to resist something new, especially when it's on special offer. However, it's these unplanned, impulsive purchases that also put us at risk of wasting food, simply because they encourage us to buy more than we need.

Since I started planning meals I have become better at only buying the food I need. I look at the use by date on any impulse purchases and also check to see whether the food may be frozen. The freezer really is your best friend here (no wonder the residents of Orton are so excited about the new Iceland that opened in the Orton Centre this week!). If you buy something to see what it's like, but it's additional to what you'd planned to buy, knowing you can freeze it for consumption as part of a planned meal helps you to avoid wasting it or any other food.

Shopping list
I can resist anything but temptation, but if I stick to my shopping list I know I'll waste less food.

When you make a list - and stick to it - you also save money. When I shop, I use the 'shop and scan' facility so I have a running total of what's in my shopping trolley. The most expensive things I buy tend to be joints of meat and I aim to buy these only when they are on offer and always freeze them.

Sometimes, making a list means buying off-season food that is more expensive and has travelled further (not good!). Buying food in season and freezing it does save money, but also requires careful management to ensure that food doesn't ultimately go to waste because you've bought it, put it away and then forgotten about it. I regularly look through my freezer to see what's in there and aim to use all food before it becomes inedible.

As Keep Britain Tidy points out, if you're following its advice about using up leftovers then you may not need to buy food for fresh meals every day.

There are some meal 'staples' that last a long time and are safe to stock up on, such as pasta, tinned chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, herbs - but that's still no excuse for buying way more than you need. If there's one foodstuff that I regularly find myself throwing out it's dried herbs and spices that have gone out of date. I wish it was possible to buy these in smaller sizes.

Lists are a great idea, but take practice. Fall into the habit of really knowing what's in your fridge and freezer and you'll get into the swing of it. And never, ever go shopping when you're hungry - that's a guarantee that you'll buy way more than you need!

Friday: Organise your fridge in nine easy steps

I lived alone for ten years.

When you live by yourself you know what's in your fridge as the only person putting things into it and taking things out of it is you.

In 2015, I began living with someone else again and this meant some things would change. Suddenly, my fridge wasn't all about me. It became a shared space, and without looking I couldn't be sure what was inside it nor what had been 'taken'.

Today's challenge is to organise your fridge 'in nine easy steps'. This sounds like a lot of stages to me, particularly as I had no problem managing my fridge when I lived alone!

Red onions
So where do you keep your onions: fridge or cupboard?

Step 1: Put new food at the back so the food that will soon go out of date is near the front in plain sight.

This is something I do instinctively, being as I am probably a bit too obsessed with food being fresh and 'safe'. I have multiple sclerosis, which is quite enough on its own, and I have a fear of becoming ill with anything else as it can take my body a long time to recover. This fear isn't totally unfounded.

In 1991, when I was a student in Brighton, I experienced a bout of food poisoning so severe that a doctor had to be called out to see me. The cause: a warm fridge. I was at my then boyfriend's house and we'd cooked spagbol. When I took the mince from the fridge I looked at it and felt unsure, but my boyfriend, who was three years older than me (which was a lot in those days) assured me that it was fine, and like the naive young woman that I was, I believed him. Much unpleasantness was to follow. When the doctor arrived he went straight to the fridge and declared 'This fridge is not cold!'

Ever since then, I've been paranoid about food being off and am meticulous about checking and re-checking that fresh food is okay before I start to prepare it.

Step 2: Keep items that go off quickly at eye level

This is also good advice. Given my paranoia about food being off it's vital that I keep fresh food where I can see it so that I remember to eat it while I still trust it not to kill me.

Step 3: Keep condiments in the bottom drawer as you don't need to keep seeing them.

OMG. I've had an epiphany. This is so obvious but the thought had never struck me. Once I've finished writing today's post I'm going to go to the fridge and do exactly this. It makes perfect sense. It's safe to put the safe stuff out of sight. So obvious, I can't believe I never thought of it.

Step 4: Keep meats well wrapped on the bottom shelf

For the most part I freeze meats on the day of purchase and only thaw them 24 hours before use. This means I plan my meals and waste less food. But sometimes even the best laid plans go awry.

Occasionally, I'll buy fresh meat and think I'll eat it within a couple of days but don't, perhaps because an evening meeting has meant I've eaten out or had a takeaway to save time. These are the occasions when I'm most at risk of forgetting about the food I'd planned to eat. Ensuring that food is visible whenever I go to the fridge is vital.

Step 5: Dairy products last longer if kept on the top shelf

This is a revelation to me! As soon as I read this tip I dashed downstairs to the kitchen and moved all the milk products up to the top shelf.

I'm loving this list. I feel that I'm really achieving something!

After I'd moved the jars to the bottom and the dairy to the top,
but before I'd separated the fruit from the veg or taken the onions out.

Step 6: Separate fruit and veg

Ooh now, am I the only person in the world that didn't know this? And where do the tomatoes go, with the fruit or with the veg? According to Keep Britain Tidy, some fruits give off ethylene which makes veg go off more quickly. Really? Ethylene? I've never heard of it! Back down to the fridge to fix that as well, then.

Step 7: Cheese lasts longer when wrapped in cheese paper

Now this is well-timed advice. Mr Julie has a preference for cheese slices and I've earned myself a telling off more than once for failing to wrap the cheese slices back up and allowing them to go hard. Cheese paper (whatever that is) shall be added to the shopping list.

Step 8: Onions don't like being in the fridge

WHAT?!!! Oh no. Now I'm beginning to feel foolish. Apparently you shouldn't put tomatoes or garlic in the fridge either (or bananas or citrus fruits, but I knew about them). Okay, well that will free up more space in the fridge.

Step 9: Bread goes stale in the fridge

What a relief. Step 9 is not news to me. I was starting to feel a bit stupid. We keep our bread on the bread board (and let it go stale there instead). The best advice is to freeze bread before it goes stale. We do keep a sliced loaf in the freezer, but we're suckers for fresh bread and inevitably we end up throwing half of it away. Clearly, we need to put half the fresh loaf into the freezer as soon as we get it home. If Mr Julie is up for it I'll do this from now on.

Saturday: Freeze it

Just when I thought there was nothing more to learn...

Not only are bananas freezable (I had no idea) but to my embarrassment I discover that I've been freezing fresh herbs the wrong way.

I knew that freezing fresh herbs was the right thing to do. No person exists who has ever used up a whole bag or bunch of fresh herbs in one meal. But, like a fool, I've been putting the herbs into a small plastic bag and putting them into the freezer. This is not a good idea, as I discovered when I tried to use the frozen herbs months later and they crumbled to dust between my fingertips.

It turns out that the correct way to freeze fresh herbs is in olive oil. Cut the herbs up and put them into an ice cube tray. Then fill the ice cube tray with olive oil. You can later add the cubes to whatever meal you're cooking. It's so obvious now it's been pointed out.

I would also suggest freezing mint leaves in water. When the mood takes you, you can add the cubes to a mojito. That's one of your five-a-day taken care of too! Possibly...

Sadly, the lime and mint in this mojito do not count towards your five fruit a day.

Sunday: Delicious odds & ends

I would be sceptical of the advice on the final day of the challenge were it not for the fact that I've recently become a fan of the Discovery show 'Ed Stafford: left for dead'.

In it, Ed is left in some far flung wilderness location and given the challenge of reaching a particular place on his own in a certain number of days. He has no food and no water and has to use his wits and his survival skills to keep himself alive.

Ed Stafford
Turns out Ed Stafford and I have loads in common.

This isn't quite the same as me standing in my kitchen wondering whether or not to eat a carrot top (I know what Ed would do), but like our hero I'm finding out that there's plenty of nutritional value and flavour in the parts of our food that we usually throw away. Chicken feet, ox cheek, the stems of most herbs, all perfectly edible.

I thought carrot tops were just for rabbits. Turns out not. People can eat them too.

Rabbit eating carrot tops
This rabbit's got the right idea.