20 December 2023

What a waste: we're throwing away too much food but you can stop the rot

| Lucy Ridge
market stall selling fruit and vegetables

Locally grown produce is usually fresher than you’ll find in the supermarket. Photo: Capital Region Farmers Market.

Food waste is a problem. Australians waste nearly 7.6 million tonnes of food each year, which is a huge contributor to carbon emissions. And as people struggle with the rising cost of living, it’s also just a bloody waste of money.

The good news is that there are solutions to this problem, and some of them are pretty tasty.

First things first: ditch the bagged salad. Sure, you have good intentions about ‘eating healthy this year’ but we all know that you’ll be pouring green sludge into the bin this time next week.

Bagged salads have a shockingly short shelf life (say that 10 times fast) and the transportation process for big supermarkets shortens it even further. By the time the salad gets to your fridge, it’s already old and you’ve already lost. And the fact that it comes in a single use plastic bag should be enough to put anyone off!

In fact, it’s worth ditching supermarkets entirely when it comes to fresh produce. A recent Guardian investigation found that, despite common beliefs, they are not the cheapest option for fruit and vegetables. The farmers market, independent stores, and veggie box subscriptions will get you fresher, cheaper produce that is usually grown much closer to home. Try Fyshwick Markets or the newly opened Capital Food market.

And if you’re really keen on salad, buy a whole head of lettuce and be amazed at how long it will last when stored well.

Dickson Village Coles.

Dickson Village Coles. Photo: James Coleman.

Storing things well is my next piece of advice. Not all fruits and veggies are the same, and they will prefer different conditions in the fridge.

Many greens will benefit from being wrapped in a damp tea towel. I use a large tupperware lined with a damp cloth for leafy greens and they keep for well over a week.

Root vegetables can be stored in your crisper drawer and, if you find them going a little limp, just pop them into a container of water overnight and they will crisp right up again. Don’t be afraid of soft spots, squidgy bits or the odd yellowing leaf. Cut it out and use the rest ASAP.

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This next one is a little controversial, but stick with me. Stop relying on recipes.

Recipe books are great for learning new skills, mastering a new dish and finding culinary inspiration. But there’s real value in learning to cook instinctively and confidently without needing to refer back to Jamie’s instructions every step of the way.

A friend of mine was collecting vintage recipes and would marvel at how short they used to be: instead of giving step-by-step instructions there was a great deal of assumed knowledge that most of us have lost now. But everybody needs to eat three meals a day, so I would say it’s one of the most important skills you can have.

Recipe books can help you on this journey, but you will find so much more joy and creativity in learning to cook without them.

Farmers market stall.

Produce box subscriptions, farmers markets, and independent stores are all great alternatives to the supermarket. Photo: Prana Produce.

The ingredients in a recipe book won’t reflect the reality of your shopping basket because nature is unpredictable and (despite the best efforts of Big Ag) not all vegetables are identical. So your recipe tells you to use half an onion, a quarter of a bunch of dill leaves and only the leaves but not the stems of your silverbeet, throwing the rest away.

Learning to cook with confidence tells you that the recipe won’t suffer if you use a whole onion, that you can pop the leftover dill in a jar with vinegar for salad dressings, and that silverbeet stems are delicious and nutritious. And learning to cook instinctively also gives you the confidence to swap silverbeet for kale or sorrel when it’s in season.

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Despite our best efforts, waste can still happen. We are only human, after all, and sometimes life gets in the way.

But instead of sending your food scraps to landfill, try composting them instead. The Canberra Environment Centre can help you get set up, and you might actually find it fun (I know it sounds strange but it’s a thing, I promise). If you don’t have space for a compost bin, try and find a neighbour who does using ShareWaste, or see if someone in your street has chickens that would enjoy your scraps.

Original Article published by Lucy Ridge on Riotact.

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