Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Saving cash and the planet

In the special report on feeding the global population in last weeks Economist I read the surprising fact that we waste the same percentage of our food in the developed world as in the developing world despite having infinitely better food storage (refrigeration and freezers versus a hole in the ground or a tarpaulin) and instant access to food (24 hour supermarkets and cornershops versus annual harvests).

The explanation given by the Economist for this is that food is relatively cheap and easily accessible so not as higly valued and we therefore don't think twice about throwing food away. Certainly food has been relatively cheap, although with rising oil prices the cost of food is on the increase, and it's true that alot of people (myself included) are guilty of overstocking our fridge and find ourselves having to throw out out of date food. However any food that you throw away has used up some of the earths resources in it's production - water and nutrients from the soil - and has had an environmental impact in it's production - use of fertilizers, fuel used up by farming equipment, carbon emissions in transport etc. so food waste is something we should all work to minimize.

As regular readers will know, however, I'm not a fan of the clean plate syndrome us brits suffer from having been brought up to never let any food served go to waste. But eating more than we need is not a logical solution to food waste and the strains on the globe to feed it's population! Infact we should start by not eating more than we need and thereby buying less food in the first place which would also save us all some money!

What makes a big difference in reducing food waste is a bit of forward planning combined with actively reading use by dates when you're shopping. Alot of people don't do the latter, but if you start you'll realise you don't have alot of time to eat most perishable food before it goes off. So with fresh food you either need to shop a couple of times a week or put a few things in the freezer as soon as you buy them. It also helps to put foods closer to their use by date at the front of the shelf in the fridge to remind you to use them first before they have to be thrown away. Planning a menu and then writing a shopping list from it will also help stop you from overbuying - the Spoonfed Suppers blog http://www.spoonfedsuppers.com/ is great for this as it actually provides you with a shopping list for the week ahead's menu so you can buy it all in one go.

What I tend to do is plan a couple of meals, buy the ingredients for those, and then improvise with what's left for the subsequent meals. I add salad and seed garnishes to liven up leftover dinners and take them to work for lunch and if I overcook a stew or chilli I freeze what's left as a handy dinner for a night when I don't have time or really don't have the energy to cook.

At the end of the week it's time to get creative and see what you can make out of the random odds and ends in the fridge. One of my favourite recipes for using up leftover salad bits is for Nori Borritos from The Kind Diet a great book on going vegan given to me by a wonderful client and NITC reader. Unfortunately the website that goes with the book was down tonight but I believe this link will give you the recipe when it's back up.

However it's very simple - you basically buy toasted Nori sheets (I use Clearspring), and then roll these into cones filled with whatever leftovers are in your fridge. Combos I've enjoyed included:
grated carrot, avocado, salad and hummous
brown rice, smoked salmon and cucumber
brown rice with a light sprinkling of soy sauce, sesame seeds, sliced apple and tomato

yum! Who said leftovers had to be boring!

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