Are you wasting food?

30 October 2007

If you're wondering why I have a jug with a strainer and a jar on top, I'm making quark cheese.

It's a sad and cruel fact that in a world where 9 million people die of hunger or malnutrition each year, the amount of food being wasted in Western countries increases most years. In the UK 20 billion pounds worth of food is wasted each year, in the USA it's between 30 and 40%, and in Australia it's 25% wasted. We are increasingly disconnected for the source of our food and in many cases people don't even know where their food comes from. They don't connect milk and cheese with cows, or eggs with chickens.

I used to waste a lot of food. I'd go to the supermarket and stock up because I didn't want to go back to shop again before I had to. I bought food "just in case we needed it". When we didn't eat it, it was thrown out. That is a shameful confession and one I did not want to make. But I have created the food wastage problem just as much as many of you have.

But I stopped wasting food. Have you?

When I was growing up, my mother never wasted food. It was a homemaker's duty to have a nice collection of recipes for leftovers. Most home cooks took pride in what they could produce from little bits of this and that. I remember bubble and squeak being made from leftover vegetables and turned into what Americans call hash browns; I remember corned beef fritters being made from the corn beef cooked and served the day before; I remember shepherd's pie or lamb curry being made with the remains of a roast leg of lamb. We loved all these meals, they where all served, not as "leftovers" but as another meal produced from the large number of recipes my mother knew. Leftover cooking was common. It was just another skill of a busy housewife who worked hard to feed her family within the confines of a meagre budget. Nothing was thrown out, nothing was wasted.

When I stopped wasting food, I made sure I only bought what I knew we'd eat - no more food "just in case". I reorganised my fridge to make sure the foods that I had been wasting were at the front of the fridge and in full view. I regularly scheduled food made from leftovers into my menu plans. When my boys were living here, if we had roast meat, or something that wouldn't be eaten in one meal, I'd always make a curry or pie with the leftovers the next day. I scanned the fridge and my vegetable boxes every two or three days to see what had to be used that day. Now we organise our food differently because we grow a lot of it and there is little waste. If I have bread left at the end of the day, it's either frozen for toast, made into breadcrumbs and frozen or given to the chooks.

I always keep an eye on use by dates too. If milk is getting close to its date, I make a custard or rice pudding. Cheese almost on its date can be added to homemade pizza. Vegetables, even small amounts can be made into soup or stock and frozen, or made into a vegetable curry for that night's dinner. The key to this is monitoring your food to make sure it's used before it spoils.

We've become a lazy mob and this is reflected in the way we waste food. I know that if my grandma or my mother had seen some of the food I've thrown out, they would have told me to wake up to myself. I'm glad I did wake up to this big problem because it's easy to fix, it saves us money, saves the planet from being choked with landfill and methane and it's the right things for all of us to be doing.

Have you checked your fridge lately?


  1. I must admit to some "just in case" food shopping still, I'm working on it, especially as the kids get older and we are on our own more often, although I am a big leftover person so nothing much is wasted.
    I make breadcrumbs with my leftover bread too, but I keep it in a jar in the pantry, does is keep better in the freezer?
    Thanks for the "food for thought" :)

  2. I can remember seeing a show on Oprah years ago when I was still at home with toddlers. She was going through someones fridge and tossing food that had spoiled, and she said "Do you realise that I'm just throwing your money away? I could just as easily take $50 out of your wallet and throw it in the trash, and you'd save yourself the trouble of buying this food, bringing it home, putting it in here and THEN throwing it out."

    That was a lightbulb moment for me.

  3. While taking anthropology class in college, we spent many hours discussing many aspects of hoarding and waste. I remember the class agreeing that women tend to gather, collect and stash things far more often then men.

    And while I am in no way making excuses for my own food and fabric hoarding tendencies, there may be something left over that is hard wired into our brains from our hunter/gatherer days. The quick version of this behavior is that it was the man's job to go out and get food and the woman was in charge of keep it from being lost to animals or other hunter/gatherers. So now we think that we need to have a stash of, clothing, fabric in order to feel a sense of security.

    We are making baby steps with our grocery shopping habits. After years of making bad choices and using credit cards we are on a strict cash budget for everything. This has lead us to be better planners and shoppers.

    As far as the fabric hoarding, I am learning to love and USE what I have. This is going to be way more difficult than the grocery shopping, but I have hope.

    Would love to hear how others stretch their grocery dollars. We are at $100 dollars a week for a family of 4, plus what we were able to put up from the garden this summer.


  4. I just did this yesterday with the contents of my vege crisper, as a matter of fact! One big saucepan of Mexican beans to go straight in the freezer in meal servings (a base for tortillas, nachos, and potato toppings), another big saucepan of minestrone (with home made chicken stock) for lunches, and some odds and ends turned into a curry.

    I'm 9mos pregnant and could have the baby any day now, so I figured I'd better get the perishables under control first so nothing has to be thrown away.

    When I have leftover milk on the turn I make paneer - Indian soft cheese. Yum.

    Liz (aka geneste on ALS)

  5. Rhonda, I think most of us are guilty of this, I still am, so after reading your wonderful words of advice, I am going to make my mission for this week, the fridge. When I get home from work today, I will reorganise it, and see what needs to be used. I like the idea of using "old" vegies for stock or soup.

    This is why I love reading these blogs, sometimes you don't even realise your bad habits, then you read someone's blog, and it makes you realise you still have a long way to go !!! Thanks Rhonda

  6. Hi Rhonda Jean :) How I have missed you this past week (a monumentally busy one for us)! I've just spent a little while catching up with you from last Weds, and I have thoroughly enjoyed it.

    This post about wasting food made me smile... this summer I pledged to prepare, preserve or share every thing my sweeties brought into the kitchen from the garden.
    You would have laughed out loud at me trying enthusiastically and then quite feverishly to figure out what in the world to do with our enormous cucumber harvest - lol!

    I am ashamed to admit that we have thrown food to the goats in past years simply from being too "busy" to take care of it.

    I find that planning the "leftovers" meals right into my weekly menus helps so much.

    Love to you! Q

  7. Another great post! I love it! My mother was very poor as a child and we as children were as well. I was the youngest of 8 kids to a single Mom. Well asperigus on the tracks growing wild was the big treat. I am so glad to see this pointed out. I am a hoarder due to the lack of food as a kid I think. It is a fine balance to get whats on sale and stock up to waisting from over stock. What a balancing act this can be.

  8. Don't have much if any waste here, though I do think I spend a lot on groceries despite having a garden... We like to eat well and try to buy mostly organics to support the cause. And we're at a point now where we can afford it.

    But now, thanks to you, I don't have to any longer feel so guilty about my luxury of going over-budget on groceries -- it's called "stockpiling!" Plus we do share with others...


  9. Good point. As I get older, I'm doing better about buying perishable foods only in the quantities we will use.

    Will you post your recipe for "quark" cheese. I've heard the term before, but have no idea what it is or how to make it.

  10. This is EXACTLY where I am at now. It's funny how, once you've started on one area of your life, that the rest is called into question and, very often, changed!!??

    We all have the skills and the knowledge - we just need to USE them!!

  11. Well, around our house, fresh meals are prepared only when there are not a lot of leftovers in the fridge. If there are, we eat leftovers until there aren't enough for everyone to eat anymore.:-)
    I have to admit that we do still waste some food, but our food budget is very low and it doesn't leave a lot of room for throwing out food.
    I've also been known to take other people's leftovers as well-especially when they say, "If you don't take it, it'll just end up in the trash." :-D

  12. I love your posts Rhonda because you always inspire me to do better. I definitely need to be more viligant with food, ensuring that I use it and don't waste it.

    Thanks for the proverbial kick ;)

  13. I'll admit to being guilty of wasting food. I try very hard not to, but it does happen.

    My MIL is from North Africa and raised 7 children with never quite enough food. She cringes when she comes to the states because of the amount of food waste. I actually earned "points" unknowingly because I was so careful not to waste food.

  14. My key to using leftovers is to think outside the box (or recipe) when planning the next meal ... be creative and you will surpirse yourself!Some of these creations are one time wonders and can never be repeated again - like my mums soups! When the frig is cleaned out I get a real sense of satisfaction knowing I have used all the bits and pieces up! The family has still eaten a nutritious meal and we are all happy chappies - full and content!

    Thanks again Rhonda for your inspiration!
    Lynette from Adelaide (its been a while since i have written )

  15. Using up leftovers is a skill many of us were never taught because of the era we grew up in. We need LEARN how to do this either by trial or by asking an older, wiser woman who has wonderful homekeeping skills. I love Depression recipes because of the ability to stretch meals-but the cookbooks are hard to come by.

  16. Don't forget the freezer -- I'm determined to use all the stuff I "toss in the freezer," rather than unearth it years later. Which means I'll have to organize the freezer and keep a list. I just know I threw beef stock in there last month...

  17. I think the more food you grow the more aware you are of food waste. It takes time to get those carrots from seed to table. You certainly don't want to see it all go to waste.

    That said, we do generate enough food waste to feed the chickens a decent meal every day.


  18. Rhonda, I must admit that when I saw the title of this post, I cringed... I asked myself, "am I wasting food?" - and yes, I am still, even though I try very hard to use up leftovers and not buy more than we would eat.

    I think this, like many other problems today, boils down to a lack of time. We don't have time to plan a menu. We don't have time to think when we compile our shopping list (that is, *if* we do that). We don't have time to search for new recipes and creative solutions. We don't have time to cook from scratch. Is it any wonder a lot of food is wasted?

  19. Boy am I ever guilty of this! Especially this past week. I have spoiled hambuger and molded broccoli sitting at the back of my fridge. It's in the back, because I feel awful for wasting it, and even though I know it will have to be thrown out, I'm having trouble actually throwing it out! UGH. Thanks for this inspiring post.

    On a different note, I would love a tutorial on quark making. I used to eat this as a young girl in Germany. So delicious!

  20. Since I started composting all my kitchen waste I haven't felt as bad about it, but I do try to use things up.

    Checking the freezer is something I hadn't thought of though ... *scurries off*

  21. What I've found that has really cut my food waste is making a menu, and shopping for the exact amounts of food that I need, based on that menu. I spend and buy much less now, yet seem to make more meals :)

    BTW - I've been reading your blog for a couple months now and love it! Thank you for writing such thoughtful posts! I always look forward to reading your new stuff :)


  22. I've got the fridge under control but my freezer is a disgrace.:-(
    This week I needed to dig out the icecream maker container from the bottom of the freezer to make my first batch of icecream since last summer. I was horrified by what I found down there and now I have to plan some recipes that will use up all the little containers of "extras" I've frozen. Like leftover evaporated milk, cubes of tomato paste, bags of green beans that somehow got lost down there. I had good intentions when I saved all these things but I keep forgetting to use them.

  23. It's amazing to me how different my relationship to food has become since I began growing my own. Now, I can't stand the idea of not eating every last little bite of carrot or tomato or beet... if we can't eat the stems or leaves, I'm absolutely compulsive about composting it. I know exactly how much hard work was put into growing that food, and I intimately know each plant as I've nurtured it from seed. Somehow my food has become a living thing in my mind, and I can't waste it!

    The other thing that keeps us from wasting is that we have downsized to a very small refrigerator. I highly recommend it!!!

    Thanks for reminding me to reflect on just how different our lifestyles have become!

  24. Wildside back after some thought to add a p.s.:

    I think my biggest waste food-wise is that I eat far too much!!! I don't follow the recommended portion control and can readily eat 2, 3x, 4x that much!

    And I don't nearly work as hard physically as growing up on a farm -- or all the activities of a younger self. Hubby doesn't have to claim this guilt because he naturally has a very high metabolism already, he gets off ticket free!

    But then, my other contrary self who hates the word 'diet' says, it is less food wasted because it's not left in the fridge to rot and at times I do work hard.

    Just need to burn off those extra calories doing something a little more productive than blog reading and commenting, eh?!

    OK, going now. HA!


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