Tuesday, July 08, 2008

waste not want not

Oh, I wish I wasn't as guilty of inefficient shopping as I am, but sadly I'm useless, always misjudging food quantities and either running out of stock almost immediately, or else opening my fridge and finding food which has passed its sell by date.

With Gordon Brown asking the nation to consider cutting back, the Guardian spend some time thinking about food wastage. Laura Barton writes:

"There is something slightly irritating about the prime minister's insistence that it is down to us consumers to cut our food waste. Less than half of the food thrown away each year comes from households. To suggest that the average householder is to blame for our colossal national wastage is to ignore the way that the food industry has been allowed to develop in this country, from the relentless rise of the supermarket to the flourishing of the fast-food outlet, the decline in farming and the death of the local shop. All of these affect why we buy the wrong things, and why we buy so much of what we do not need".
All of which is undoubtedly true - but the fact remains that a lot of people (including, for the most part, me) could do with developing stategies for efficient food consumption. So the article's tips, put together by Ms. Barton and John Henley, make sound advice and a surprisingly good read. I'll certainly be trying to think this stuff through more.

A few of their best tips:

Don't be afraid of an empty fridge

"I think that goes back to the rise of the big American fridge," notes Blythman. "It's an aspirational thing." You do not, therefore, need to buy acres of food each week to keep it chock-full.

Learn how to use leftovers

The lovefoodhatewaste.com site has a huge array of recipes contributed by celebrity chefs, nutritionists and members of the public, including a large number dubbed "rescue recipes" - in other words, how to put that bit of leftover chicken or half courgette to delicious use. There are also websites out there (leftoverchef.com and kitchen-scraps.com, to name but two) that, one you've typed in the primary and secondary ingredients you have spare, will go away and search their databases for recipes to use them up. Bit of fish left over, and some broccoli? Try, for example, Chinese steamed fish. And a couple of books may help: Second Time Around: Ideas and Recipes for Leftovers by Pamela Le Bailly, and The Use It Up Cookbook: Creative Recipes for the Frugal Cook, by Catherine Kitcho.

Take sell-by dates with a pinch of salt

As a general rule, only "use by" is worth taking seriously; "sell-by" and "display-until" dates are merely stock-control devices for food retailers, and "best before" is simply the producer's estimate of when the food will stop tasting good, which is fairly subjective anyway. Rather than slavishly observing these date labels, we'd be far better off understanding the kinds of foods that could actually be harmful if they go off, such as ready meals (including sandwiches), soft cheeses, pates and cooked, processed meats and seafood. Eggs with a Lion Quality stamp can be kept for weeks in the fridge; chicken, raw meats and fish will all look and smell unpleasant long before they're actively unsafe (as long as you cook it thoroughly, chicken, for example, is good for at least a week past its sell-by date). Apples last for months; potatoes are fine as long as you chop the green shoots off before cooking; tins and jars will last decades if not centuries; hard cheese is indestructible; and dry foods will last for years too. "Ignore sell-by dates," insists Swannell. "They're not relevant. And best before is just what it says on the tin; it doesn't mean the food is toxic the day after that date."

Elsewhere, over at B4L, Andrew asks an interesting question:
"Would the Government have been brave enough to suggest that people might save money by using less petrol, or that by borrowing less they might insulate themselves from rising interest rates? People inevitably realise this and adapt accordingly, but the reaction to a politician stating it would be furious."


dan said...

www.hiidunia.org on Friday will show a film called 'More for Less' which will highlight the 'Freegan' way of life...

jonathan said...

Oh right, cool - that sounds really good.

Dan said...

...and having a 'laura barton' tag won't mean that she'll read our blog, no matter how much you might want her to..