At the recent G8 Summit in Japan, Gordon Brown urged British households to cut down on food waste to reduce carbon emissions and cut costs. The Cabinet Office states that 4.1 tonnes of food are wasted, which it says costs £8bn to send to landfill. That works out at around £400 per household, per year. Just on bananas alone, we throw away 1.6 million a day. Not only is this a terrible waste, but these foods ferment, causing the emission of greenhouse gases. Evidently something has to change. So what can we do as individuals?
Ideally, we would buy our food daily, as is traditional in France. But we lead busy lives, and shopping at the supermarket is convenient. So how can we alter our shopping habits to ensure that we minimise what we throw away?
Firstly, making lists and planning menus means that we are not lured by the buy-one-get-one-free temptations in the supermarket — of which the second item is often discarded. We also need to store food at the right temperature and have sufficient supplies of re-sealable containers.
Freezers are a boon. A whole loaf can be sliced and frozen, removing the number of slices needed for a meal, so saving waste. Spare meals can be labelled, packed and frozen. Top tip: when tomatoes are squashy, freeze them in bags and add them later to sauces or soups. Herbs can be processed with a little water and placed in ice-cube trays, while the dregs of the wine can also be frozen and saved to be added to sauces and risottos.
When you look in the fridge, maybe think in terms of “cooked ingredients” rather than “leftovers”, which sounds depressing. Checking the fridge often is sensible, and using yesterday’s foods can be seen as a creative challenge.
The tired vegetables at the back — even that onion that has started to sprout — can become today’s soup. Potatoes that are sprouting are usable. Cut off any green patches and all the sprouts, then cut into pieces, barely cover with water, and, when cooked, mash, season well and freeze in a container. They are also delicious baked in the oven until crispy golden. Or par-boil and grate with a mixture of left-over vegetables, one egg and a little flour to form into veggie latkes — a good way to tempt children to eat vegetables.
The fruit in the fruit bowl can be poached and served with custard or topped with crumble. Brown bananas are wonderful peeled, cut and frozen; then, when needed, whizzed into smoothies with milk or yoghurt.
Simmer the Shabbat chicken carcass with a handful of vegetables to make a good soup, and mince left-over roast meat, transforming it into shepherd’s pie with the help of tasty gravy and a topping of fresh mashed potato. Left-over cooked vegetables can be chopped finely and mixed with mashed potato to create a delicious bubble and squeak.
Leftover rice? It can be magically transformed into egg-fried rice with a few vegetables for colour, maybe peas, peppers, a little sweetcorn, even peeled sliced cucumber, then beaten with 1-2 eggs per person, with a little five spice powder and a dash of soy.
National food-waste problems are not entirely our fault. Certainly, the supermarkets are culpable — it is known that they dump vast amounts of usable food. Nevertheless, adopt some of these waste-saving tactics, and you will be saving money, energy and fulfilling the Jewish commandment, bal tash’hit, against wasteful destruction. In Sefer haHinnuk, it says: “The way of the pious. They love peace… do not even waste a mustard seed and they are pained by all destruction and waste that they see.” (Mishna Sotah 1:7)
A luscious recipe that turns brown bananas, a soft peach or nectarine and a couple of ounces of marmalade into a delicious tea or breakfast. Makes approx 12 muffins.
125g (4 oz) Tomor or butter
175g (6oz) soft brown sugar
2 free-range organic eggs, beaten
200gms, 7oz self-raising flour
1 tsp mixed spice
Juice and grated rind of either 1 lemon or half an orange
75 ml (4oz) of milk or runny peach, passion-fruit, yoghurt
3 soft bananas
2 tablespoons, 15 ml marmalade
1 finely chopped nectarine or peach
-Set the oven to 190 degrees, gas 5.
-Cream margarine with the sugar, citrus rind, vanilla essence and marmalade. Beat eggs with the yoghurt and add gradually to margarine mix.
-Mash bananas with lemon or orange juice and add chopped fruit. Sieve the flour with the mixed spice. Combine liquid mixtures. Then fold in flour.
-Drop into muffin cases and bake for approx 20-25 mins.