17 July 2014

Food waste and how to avoid it

The rate of food wastage in many Western countries, including Australia, is shameful. The current estimation is that about 30 percent of the food we buy is wasted. That is just plain crazy. If you can organise yourself to not waste any food, you'll have money to pay off debt, to save or use to buy something you need. I think the main problem is a general lack of skills when it comes to selecting fresh food in the shops and then storing it correctly at home. Luckily these are skills anyone can learn.

If food spoils before you've had a chance to eat it then it might be wise to rethink your food buying and storage strategy. If food is stored in the fridge and sits there until it looks unusable or the use by date tell you it's not safe to eat it, then you're probably buying too much food, or at least the wrong kind of food.

Either way, you have to get rid of spoiled food. It either goes in the bin for transport to land fill or to the compost heap if you've got one set up. Maybe some of it can be given to the chickens but never give them food with mould or fungus on it. Often the compost heap is the only option. You don't need to have a working vegetable garden to have a compost heap. Composting your food waste is far better than sending it to land fill. Taking care of your own perishable rubbish, makes you more self-reliant and independent. Even if that compost heap sits there and the compost is never used, if it just decomposes and enriches the soil beneath it, it's a far better option than sending your food waste to the tip.

Our compost heap is a very simple affair - just lawn clipping, green leaves, fruit and potato peels, paper and old straw from the chicken pen etc, thrown together in a pile and kept moist. Over the weeks and months it will decompose.

To set up a compost heap, find a space on garden soil away from the house so you don't have to look at it all the time. If you have three sides holding the food waste in, that's ideal, but it can be done without it.  Just add your food scraps as you have them, add pieces of cardboard, shredded or ripped paper, old envelopes, contents of the vacuum cleaner, old pieces of cotton, wool and linen, cuttings from the garden and lawn clippings. You can add anything that has once been alive but do not add dairy products or meat/fish of any kind. That will attract rats and mice. When you've added the food waste, try to cover the heap with a layer of lawn clippings or cardboard. That will stop any smells and will keep the heap safe from visiting birds. When it's dry, hose the heap. It should be kept moist but not wet. If you do that, you'll be able to compost your own food and some household waste and save it from going to landfill. A worm farm will do a similar thing but it will use much less waste.

Even though you add to the compost heap all the time, it should be decomposing and therefore shrinking in size. But if the heap does grow a little and you're making good compost, get a spade and throw it around on your lawn or ornamentals plants to use it up.

The other great strategy to reduce food waste is to plan your menus every week. If you're only buying what you need for that week's meals, you'll have less waste (and more money).  There are many posts at the forum about menu planning. If you don't know what to do, read some of the posts, or ask someone to help.

Many people recommend growing your own fruit and vegetables but make sure that is a viable option before you start.  If you're starting from scratch and have to buy soil or enrich virgin soil, build or buy raised beds, fertiliser, seeds and seedlings, sometimes it doesn't make financial sense. If you want to start raising vegetables, start small - with easy vegetables such as lettuce, carrots and beans and build up your crops and skills each year. And don't just learn about planting and varieties, learn about harvesting, storing and preserving food as well. You'll do yourself no good if you grow a great crop of all the vegetables you want to eat but then waste a lot of them because you don't know how to store or preserve them.

If you can't use all your lemons, juice them and freeze the juice. I make lemon cordial during the summer months with our frozen lemon juice.

You need to be proactive when you produce food at home. If you're growing lemons, collect recipes for lemon dishes so you can use the lemons when you have an abundance, and you will have. If you don't want to use all of them, find someone to barter with. Almost everyone wants lemons, you won't have any trouble swapping them for something you want.  The same goes for everything you're growing. Know what you'll do with it when you have a small amount or a large amount.  Learn the skill before you need to use it. It is this kind of thinking that allows some homemakers and gardeners to get ahead while others struggle.

Learn how to make leftovers into something delicious on the second or third day. You'll save yourself the cost of making another meal from scratch, you'll save the electricity it would take to cook it and the time it takes to cook from scratch. Above all else though, you'll be building up your skills and fully utilising the food you have on hand. That skill might make or break you one day.

 Find some good recipes for using leftovers, then use them.

  • Clean out your crisper bins in the fridge before you shop. Use the vegetables and fruit that are still in there before you buy a new batch. Vegetables can be used to make a soup or casserole and that will be one less meal you have to shop for.
  • Have a plan for leftovers. Stretching a meal from one to two or three days is a skill we can all develop.
  • If produce needs to be stored in a certain way, do it.
  • Don't store potatoes or onions in plastic bags, they'll rot.
  • Wrap celery in aluminium foil - it will keep well for six weeks, still crisp.
  • Most vegetables store better in sealed plastic bags rather than just being open in the crisper.
  • Don't overstock your stockpile.
  • Buy only what you know you'll eat.
I wonder how you manage food in your home. Do you have any clever tips and hints to add to this list? I'd love to hear them.

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