Anyone can eat sustainably, as UK chef, beer expert and Love Food Hate Waste campaigner Richard Fox writes.
Every year four million tonnes of food is wasted in Australia at a cost of $7.8 billion. Here in the food and wine capital of Australia, each local household throws out around $517 worth of food a year. This works out to be a staggering 178kg per person annually and the impact of all this wasted food on the environment is just as shocking. Australians discard up to 20 percent of the food they purchase – just think about that – one out of every five bags of groceries you buy you throw in the bin.
There is also the environmental impact of this wastage. In Australia alone, greenhouse gas emissions associated with avoidable food and drink waste add up to the equivalent of 6.4 million tonnes of CO2 a year. By dumping that kilo of beef you didn’t use also wastes the 50,000 litres of water it took to produce that piece of meat or by ditching that kilo of potatoes that has started to shoot, costs 500 litres of water.
But with the help of organisations like OzHarvest, who recently brought me to Adelaide to help educate Adelaideans about food sustainability, there is a groundswell of people eager to help reduce waste by changing our cooking habits and attitudes towards leftovers. In my demonstrations at the Adelaide Central Market, I showed shoppers how to give new life to leftovers destined for the bin. When your vegetables are starting to look tired and drab in the veggie draw, just roast, char-grill or pan fry them, then let them cool down and refrigerate, ready to throw together for a delicious, instant meal with the simple addition of a little grated cheese, crème frâiche, tinned tomatoes or anything else that comes to hand.
Remember that ‘best before’ dates are only a guide. We need to use our senses like our grandmothers used to and start using sight, smell and taste again to gauge whether food is still good to eat. If your bananas are overripe – make banana cake; if your tomatoes are squashy – make a tasty tomato sauce; if your carrots and celery are bendy – throw them in a soup; if your cheese is starting to grow mold – cut around it. For food that really is past it, the best thing you can do is have an environmentally friendly disposal system, such as a compost bin or worm farm, to put your scraps in instead of the rubbish bin. Or if you fancy yourself as a bit of an urban-famer – get yourself some chooks!
Meanwhile on a much larger scale, OzHarvest is saving food destined for the rubbish bin and then feeding people in need. Since its yellow van hit streets of Adelaide in January 2011, OzHarvest has rescued 550,000 meals from more than 230 local food businesses, delivering quality food to 50 different charitable agencies. Iconic and well-known Adelaide food outlets such as the Adelaide Central Market, Adelaide Convention Centre and Grass Roots are just some of the great contributors to this outstanding cause.
By distributing this food to various charities, OzHarvest assist them to better and more efficiently address the underlying social problems in our society. With this support charities are able to redirect funding to programs assisting those who are disadvantaged or at risk. OzHarvest provides this service at no cost to food donors and recipients.
So what can you do at home in your own kitchens to help make a difference?
1. Make fragile fresh herbs such as parsley, coriander, dill and chives last up to 10 times longer by wrapping them in dampened, absorbent kitchen paper, followed by cling film. Store them in the fridge. 2. Use up whole bulbs of garlic by wrapping them loosely in kitchen foil and then roasting in a 180̊ pre-heated oven for 45 minutes to an hour-and-a-half, depending on the size of the garlic. Cut through the middle and squeeze out a delicious garlic puree for mashed potato, or for eating with flat bread. Once roasted, freeze in half garlic portions. 3. Keep bagged salad fresher for longer by not storing in the bag once it’s opened. Instead, transfer to a plastic container or bowl, lay over damp absorbent kitchen paper or damp, clean dishcloth, and then cover in cling film or a lid. 4. Keep small amounts of cooked leftovers such as broccoli, tinned fish, peas and potato, then combine to make a new dish such as fish cakes. 5. Don’t throw away dried herbs and spices when they’re past their best before date. Simply add more to compensate for any loss of aroma or flavour. 6. Plan meals. Shopping for specific ingredients with meals in mind and taking a list helps ensure we use what we buy. Buying foods that can be used for several different dishes gives us flexibility to create different meals.