Good people doing good things
One of my goals for the year is to be more considerate of my environmental impact, particularly when it comes to food. There are challenges to this but in reality, it’s not that hard to be considerate and at least make sure you don’t end up putting what you buy straight into the bin. The ‘Bellies not Bins’ mantra certainly a good one in my book. At last count the cost of food waste in the UK costs the average household £470 a year and equates to around 7 million tonnes.
I discovered The Real Junk Food Project towards the end of last year and have tried to visit as often as possible whilst also not going just for the sake of it! I didn’t know much about it to start with so I messaged a group I found close to home and asked a couple of questions. I liked the idea of taking food that would be thrown away by supermarkets and doing something good with it, I had no idea how many organisations they worked with but I was quite excited to discover that I might get a Nando’s treat too.
As it turns out they do a huge amount in our community and operate on a ‘pay as you feel’ basis – they run pop up cafe’s as well as regular events, they donate food to those in need and have helped educate me about the scale of food waste in our local area let alone the UK. All the money raised goes into the logistics of the operation not pockets. There is another side to this too, much of what they help process is fresh fruit and vegetables and actually, for low-income families a bag of fruit and veg for what you can afford is a huge help. I discussed this with a friend recently who teaches in the area and she mentioned that many of her students come from families where resources are limited , the school used to provide free fruit at break time but is not longer able to do so, I was saddened to hear that in some cases this was the first thing some of the children would have eaten that day, let alone that for some, fruit at break was a treat they looked forward to as they wouldn’t get it at home. I mentioned this to the group and they immediately asked if there was a way they could help.
My first visit was humbling, I arranged to pick up a ‘Freegan box’ and to be honest had no idea what to expect, I arrived at my pick up location and felt dwarfed by the number of boxes stacked up and full of food, I had a chat with the people there, who open up their home and fill it with produce to make sure it doesn’t go to waste and was amazed to hear just how much ‘junk’ food they manage to clear each week. The passion they have is contagious and as I was handed my food and told to go and help myself to anything I wanted I felt a little awkward was this ok? How much should I take? How much should I donate? What is the etiquette in this situation? My nervousness passed quickly as they told me about what they had been working on that week and chatted comfortably whilst I eyed up an array of veg and some nice looking bread from Peel & Stone.
I went away on that first day feeling satisfied that I had done something useful, but also excited by the produce I had chosen and keen to go home and get cooking. Since that day, I’ve gone several times and am always amazed by what is available, from an abundance of pumpkins in October to 36 crates worth of parsnips after Christmas! The amount that could be wasted normally is tremendous so I take care to think about what I will use, what I can keep for longer etc. It’s not just fresh produce though, everything from jars of chutney with 6 months left before they reach the best before date to frozen meals and bags of dried fruit and nuts.
Ways in which I help reduce food waste (these are easy but I was suprised to hear not everyone does this) Obviously now my first suggestion would be to find somewhere like the Real Junk Food Project but here are a couple of others:
- Buy what you need, if you are only cooking 3 nights a week you are unlikely to get through a bag of 5 courgettes..
- Yellow Stickers! A few people I know used to get very excited about finding the best reduced bargains and it’s still the first place I look for inspiration in the supermarket
- Use your freezer. We always have ‘ingredient’ foods in the freezer, things like herbs get thrown away a lot but there is no harm in freezing them. Likewise there is so much you can make up in batches and freeze, whether that be sauces, stocks or entire meals. When you look in our freezer, we dont have boxes or packets of food – we have raw ingredients of tubs of things we have made up. This also helps to make healthier choices and allows us to be more inventive too
- Use your instinct, I’ve never paid attention to suggested dates as I was always brought up to know how to tell if something was still good. Likewise, just because an apple has a brown spot doesn’t mean you can’t eat the rest of it.
- Be creative! As a student I would make ‘Homer’ pasta which was essentially a huge pan of whatever pasta I could find in the cupboard to which I would then add an array of things that were lurking in the fridge, this would always be leftover tomatoes, peppers, onions and then bits of cheese, bacon or cold meats, herbs, seeds and then I would eat it over a few days, occassionally reheating it in the microwave (I know this is terrible!)
- Keep track of what’s in the fridge, its easy to forget sometimes and end up rebuying something
I’ve still got a lot to do to reduce our waste, not just with food but we are making progress and thinking more about it which I think is a good start.
Some useful links about food waste and how you can do your bit: