27 June 2007

Wasting food

I have few regrets when I look back on my old life but one thing I do regret is all the food and money I wasted. I’m very careful now to make sure that I buy only what I’ll use and when the food is in the house, I make sure I use it. “Forgetting” about it in the back of the fridge or the cupboard is no longer an option for me. I refuse to waste anything. Sadly, it’s not only the financial aspect of all that waste that is disturbing, it’s also that fact that most of it goes to our landfill sites and gives off greenhouse gases, including methane.

According to Wasteful Consumption in Australia: “Overall Australians threw away $2.9 billion of fresh food, $630 million of uneaten take-away food, $876 million of leftovers, $596 million of unfinished drinks and $241 million of frozen food, a total of $5.3 billion on all forms of food in 2004. This represents more than 13 times the $386 million donated by Australian households to overseas aid agencies in 2003.” 1

I wonder if others are shocked by those figures. I am.

The waste outlined in the report is broken down
into the following demographic characteristics: Younger people waste more than older people. In the 18 – 24 year old age bracket, there was an amazing 38 percent who said they wasted $30 worth of fresh food per fortnight. This sharply reduces in the 70-plus age bracket where only seven percent of householders admitted similar waste. 1

The key to stopping food waste is good organisation. When you shop, do it with a shopping list after you’ve planned your menus, or at least have a good idea of what you need to buy for meals. Don't impulse shop, thinking you'll buy something "just in case", or because it looks good. When you buy meat, fish and poultry, get it home quickly, divide it into meal-sized portions and label it clearly, with the date, and put it in the fridge or freezer as soon as you can. Keep all the different kinds of meat together in their own sections. This will help you know when you need to buy fresh supplies of that particular product. If you have a freezer with drawers, keep all your beef in one draw, the chicken in another, or divide the drawer in two and have beef one side and lamb in the other. If you have a box-type freezer, put your meats in baskets, plastic containers or old plastic shopping bags that are labeled with the contents.

Organising your freezer, and making a commitment to keeping it organised, will help because you’ll know what you have on hand, what you need to buy and what needs to be used before it is too old. Most freezers have a frozen food guide printed on the inside of the door, be guided by it and don’t store food longer than the suggested time period. Keeping a freezer log is also a good idea. Just get a small notebook and divide it up into sections. When putting new food in the freezer, enter it in the log, complete with portion size, food type, date. When you use something in the freezer, cross it off your log book. You’ll know at a glance exactly how much frozen food you have. Keep the log close to your freezer so you don’t waste time looking for it when storing new food or taking it out.

Be mindful of what is in the fridge that needs to be used. You might have vegetables that are a bit old - make vegetable soup and freeze it. There will be a night when you are grateful to have a pre-made homecooked meal ready to go. The apples going soft in the fridge? Stew them and have them that night with a little cinnamon sugar and warm custard.

I challenge all of you to go to your fridges now and see if there is anything that is on the verge of being wasted. If so, do something with it before it's too late.

1 Wasteful Consumption in Australia
Clive Hamilton, Richard Denniss, David Baker
Discussion Paper Number 77
March 2005
ISSN 1322-5421


  1. Great post Rhonda. We find we waste a lot of food that hides at the back of the fridge, then it is justified with "it doesn't get wasted, the chooks will eat it", which, whilst better, is still not good. If we can incorporate some of these tips then we'll be doing a lot better at it.

  2. Try telling my kids not to waste the vegetables on their plates! I keep cooking them even though I know they wont be eaten most of the time. I live in hope, and at least we worms and chooks!

  3. Yep Kate I do exactly the same re kids and veggies. I'm also glad we have chooks, worms and a dog, but still have to get hubby to scrape the plates some nights cause I can't bear to look at the waste.

    Rhonda I'm guilty of sometimes finding things lurking in the back of the fridge that I've forgotten about but I'm getting much better. I'm also getting pretty good at making a meal out of the things I find in the fridge. Some of those figures where amazing. I wondered at the accuracy too, when people were estimating their wastage, I suspect it may in fact be even higher.

    cheers Lenny

  4. Like others I'm guilty of this at times. Mostly it happens when plans are changed or I somehow get off course. Then again, some of it is laziness for which there is no excuse ie I can't be bothered cooking the casserole tonight because I'm tired. Then I can't be bothered for a week and all the vegies are spoilt. They do go into the compost bin but still... It's permanently on my list of 'must do better' so these tips will come in handy.

  5. Very scary statistics. I used to be very guilty of this but am a lot better now. Still get the lazies at times or get too busy with work, but getting there! Baby steps, like most things :)

  6. Due to another discusion on cleaning out your fridge I am ever vigilant now of whats in the fridge and there is no things hiding in the back waiting for the bin.
    With the worms,chooks,Kodi and compost I am proud to say we have virtually no waste.

  7. Very valid point Rhonda. We really try and cut down on waste, but always forget the leftovers. I think a freezer inventory stuck on the fridge is a good idea, or if you have leftovers you put a note on the fridge to remind you to eat that first. The other option is to cook a lot smaller meal and if you are still hungry, do what they did in the old days and finish with a slice of bread to clean your plate !

  8. We have very few leftovers unless I intentionally make enough for lunches the next day. Vegetables that were not so tasty do sometimes linger and make their way out to the compost. We are chookless at the moment so I am more aware of how many bread scraps we seem to make. I find that unless something I make is truly disgusting my teenage boys finish it off and then go looking for more. Bottomless pits they are.

  9. I know you dont eat meat but to me letting meat go to waste is the worst thing you can do. An animal has died to provide you food and to just let that go off in your fridge in my opinion is horrible, the animal has died for no purpose. My partner and I eat meat very rarely but when we do I make sure to buy only as much as we need and it never goes to waste.

  10. I agree wholeheartedly with the last comment! So many animals raised for food live in horrible conditions and to waste their meat means that their lives have been utterly meaningless. Surely we should place a real value on what we eat, and think hard about what we buy - both in economic terms, and for the sake of every being on the planet - human and otherwise. I try very hard to buy meat that has been raised "kindly" - not always possible - and as little as we really need, so nothing is wasted. Veg scraps are either recycled into other meals or go in the compost bin - or for doggie treats.


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