5 ways to avoid food waste

Waste becomes waste when you waste it! Hmmm … that’s not too hard to figure out! Yet it is estimated that 1/3 of all food produced worldwide ends up in the trash – and this figure is even higher in some countries!

It is estimated that in the UAE “food waste costs the national economy around AED 13 billion annually.”

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations

family feast

How many times do you buy too many groceries and end up having to throw perishables away because they couldn’t be eaten in time? It is like buying 3 bags worth of groceries and throwing 1 away! Would you buy so much if you knew that you were actually throwing one whole bag away? I doubt it, you wouldn’t throw money out the window like that!!!

1/3 of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted.

World Economic Forum

It is not just food that YOU throw away – a lot of the food grown on farms also never makes it to the supermarket or into our homes!  Let’s take a tomato farmer as an example, the farmer puts time into tending to his fields, watering and fertilizing (and even putting poisonous pesticides) on the tomatoes.  He spends a lot of time training and paying staff to help run the farm.  The tomatoes also need lots of land to be able to grow – especially if the farm grows large amounts to sell in bulk.  The whole team has done the best they can, however once the tomatoes are ready to be picked – the farmer realizes that only half of his crop will make it! Why? Because some tomatoes may be too big, too small or too ugly to meet the supermarket specifications.

There are many reasons why this produce grows unevenly, the weather being one of those reasons!  Just last week I was told by the farm I always order my weekly veg from that the tomatoes from the farm are not very good as we had a very weird weather pattern that week – it was hot then it was raining, so they said they would give me the tomatoes for free! However, when the order came, they didn’t even provide the tomatoes as they didn’t want to disappoint their customers! What a waste – however I know that they would have gone to compost which is still a good use and avoids landfill! I wouldn’t have made a salad out of them, but I could have made tomato soup, tomato sauce or our favorite tomato soup!

A variety of odd shaped vegetables

BUT we have been trained to buy insanely good-looking fresh produce when these visual imperfections, make no difference to whether they can be eaten or not – they still have the same taste and offer the same nutritional value! They are not spoiled or damaged or have some kind of disease – they are merely just a slightly different shape!

It may not seem that important because – it is organic waste – it is not plastic right?! Its natural right?! But, when this organic food waste is trapped in a landfill – it can’t decompose. There isn’t enough air in the landfill to help break down the food as it is surrounded by other inorganic materials from plastic to clothing to metal, etc that also don’t break down! Instead, this organic waste releases methane gas into the air which is a strong greenhouse gas – way more powerful than CO2 – and one of the biggest contributors to global warming and climate change.

The concept of reducing waste is still relatively new, especially in the UAE! We have amazing luxury hotels offering laborious daily buffets and let’s not talk about the amount of waste generated at a Friday brunch! Food waste is a big problem with this busy, modern city life. Most people live in apartments and there is no option but to put food waste in the trash, as curbside composting collections are not available. So, unless you live in a villa or have a large garden balcony where you are able to compost – it is not that practical!

This above-mentioned example of tomatoes is only one of many examples … most food products have a similar story irrespective of whether they are fresh, frozen, dried or canned! Alot of resources, land, energy and money go into this waste! Animal products use up even more than plant-based ones! But this is not a blog about going vegan so let’s talk about what you can do to act against food waste at home and how this can also save you money!

Do you ever get your produce from farmers markets in the UAE, irrespective of whether you pick your own produce or order it online? If yes, do you always get perfect looking vegetables? NO! Challenge yourself to pick knobbly potatoes or carrots that are merged together on your next farm visit – or go on and select the button to receive odd shaped vegetables with your next order! My kids have learned to love these strange looking vegetables – they find them waaaayy more exciting than ‘normal’ ones!!!

My childhood memories

I grew up on a farm, a dairy farm too! We had pedigree Jersey cattle which were milked twice daily – hand milked into buckets. As a child I remember my Mom squirting hot milk from the teat into my mouth. (I couldn’t imagine doing that now, but it was such an experience when I was a kid)! The milk was sold in glass bottles to the local shops. People could collect fresh milk, unpasteurized from the farm with their own glass bottles. Children from the local nurseries would come and have a farm tour to see the cows being milked and baby calves fed with bottles. We also stabled horses for other people and had our own chickens that gave us fresh eggs!  We grew tomatoes, green beans, cabbage, potatoes and pretty much whatever was in season at the time.

Nothing went to waste on the farm.  Scraps from the kitchen were boiled up and fed to our 5 dogs, including potato skins, garlic, butternut skin you name it. The used straw that came from the horse stables as well as the cow dung and chicken litter were added to a compost pile.  This compost was dug into the lands before planting the vegetables.  Everything was hand planted and harvested. Even our irrigation water was sourced from a borehole on the farm which was used to water the vegetables.

We never had much trash back in “those days”. We respected food and were forced to finish our plate, the food was enough and not overflowing on our plates – it was healthy, unprocessed whole food.

However now when you go to the store you find 10 different varieties of tomatoes and apples from all over the globe! Aisles and aisles of processed products on shelves with expiry dates that are years from now! Maybe this is why we don’t respect food like we did before as it is not REAL food! It is just not as satisfying or satiating! We don’t eat to live – we live to eat!

One new skill I learned during the coronavirus times is baking sourdough bread! It takes time to prepare a sourdough loaf, to feed the starter and wait for it to be activated, to mixing the dough and letting it rise and then stretch and fold it again before baking.  It is a 2 day process – and now that I have some extra time – I finally took the leap! Once the bread comes out of the oven, we eat what we need and then slice and freeze the rest and not a crumb goes to waste!  Not after I put all that hard work and effort into it!!! It tastes sooooooo good you don’t want to waste it!

As you can tell if there is one thing, I have a great aversion to, it is WASTE. Especially food waste … when there are starving children in Africa, Syria and may other countries in the world! Wasting less has benefits too; aside from saving time on endless trips to the store and saving money that you don’t have to spend on food that will be wasted; farmers also don’t have to produce as much food that just ends up going to waste anyway.

For me, bare shelves in my fridge at the end of the week means success! It means that I have planned meals well, have had little to no food waste and am more inclined (and can more quickly and easily) clean the refrigerator!

So here are some tips you can try at home.

1. Take Inventory

Before going to the shop, have a quick look in your fridge, freezer and pantry cupboards to see what you already have! Maybe you don’t need another jar of pesto, another can of coconut milk and your 3rd half opened strawberry jam!

2. Meal Plan

Jot down some meals that you would like to cook for the week. It doesn’t have to be too detailed.  I don’t plan breakfasts as we seem to have the same weekly rotation … pancakes, eggs, sourdough toast, smoothie bowls, oats, granola, foul and man’oushe. Nobody ever seems to get sick of those breakfasts so those are always staples and it is easy to have these ingredients on hand!

I always plan our main meal for the weekdays and then the weekends we usually do a BBQ and finish off any leftovers.  Or we take the kids out for a meal as a treat (not now during corona times of course)! Lunches are simple like salads, soups, pasta, based on what seasonal vegetables I have received from the farm.

3. Buy less

We buy waaaayy too much! Temptation is so easy as the supermarkets are so good at marketing but we often buy a lot and then run out of time or become lazy to cook during the week! Life happens! We are afraid of running out of food and so we tend to overspend!

I made a big mistake the other day and ended up ordering 1kg of kale from the farm! I had to get creative and we ended up making kale chips which were amazing! But we don’t want to see kale chips again anytime soon!

4. Look at expiration dates

We buy waaaayy too much! Temptation is so easy as the supermarkets are so good at marketing but we often buy a lot and then run out of time or become lazy to cook during the week! Life happens! We are afraid of running out of food and so we tend to overspend!

Check the expiration date before purchasing and only buy the item if you can realistically use it before it goes bad.  When it comes to expiration dates, I do not pay much attention to them! I trust my senses instead of the date on the package, as well as smell, sight and taste.

This mostly applies to fresh cows’ milk! I don’t enjoy drinking milk but my kids do love it from time to time and they don’t drink it all in one go! In the UAE the expiry date is usually within 3 days which is way too soon in my opinion, maybe that’s because I grew up on a dairy farm – ha ha, but it usually lasts a good 7 days! And if it does happen to turn sour, the dogs love it or we use it in a cake!

5. Love your freezer

If you are getting to the end of the week and it looks like there are some fruits or vegetables that you will not be able to use – freeze them! They don’t always have the same consistency when they are defrosted but fruits can be used in smoothies, jams or ice creams, and veg in soups or stocks!

Also freeze leftovers that won’t be eaten.  Even if it is just 1 individual portion of a pasta sauce or soup as you never know when it can come in handy! Sometimes, when I don’t feel like cooking I find a little culinary treasure inside. However, don’t let your freezer become a graveyard of food scraps, try to consume the frozen items within a month!

I would love to hear from you – what are your tips on how to avoid food waste? If you need any help with this too, please leave a comment below.

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