Our top tips for making your weekly shop go a lot further.
Last week, LULR was shocked at revelations that almost half the food produced in the world is thrown away. The report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers also found that up to 30% of UK vegetable crops are not harvested due to their failure to meet supermarkets’ exacting standards on physical appearance. For this and other reasons, such as discarding mountains of perfectly edible food, supermarkets are often blamed for the rise in our nation’s food waste. But according to Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, of all the food waste produced in the UK only “around 6% comes from retail”, while more than 50% is generated by households. As such, I put together these useful tips on how to reduce your food waste and save money in the process.
Relax your attitude
The Foods Standards Agency will hunt me down and reprimand me for saying this, but I truly believe we should relax our attitudes towards supermarket ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates. I’m not advocating we all start eating grey mince and squishy cucumber, just use a bit of discretion. In my household we keep certain foods for weeks after their use by dates, mostly potatoes and other root vegetables, green beans and sometimes eggs. I’m much more cautious with raw meat and fish, but I think nothing of pulling a bit of mould from a piece of bread.
Grow your own
You certainly won’t have to worry about FSA-imposed food deadlines if you produce your own groceries. Kitchen gardening won’t make you self-sufficient, but even if you only grow a few herbs and a batch of tomatoes you’re still more likely to eat them rather than let them go to waste. Plus, you’re not buying packaging that will be sent to recycling plants and your harvest won’t contain any pesticides.
Feed your garden, roof terrace or window box
It’s hard to be completely waste-free, but even your food scraps don’t have to go to landfill, they can be composted instead. You can put vegetable peelings, egg shells, tea bags, fruit seeds, nuts and even hair in your compost bin. If you don’t grow anything, some councils now provide a special bin for food waste, or you could buy a small compost bin and when full take it down to your local allotments – they wouldn’t sniff at it! Check recyclenow.com for more tips on what to compost.
Who cares whether all your tomatoes are exactly the same shape, size and colour? Fruit and vegetables aren’t supposed to be clones of one another, and personally I prefer my carrots with their green tops still on. Buying locally grown produce from farmers markets might be a tad more expensive, but ethically it hits all the spots. It reduces food miles, supports your local economy and you’re less likely to over-buy.
Store it right
At the risk of sounding like my mum in the late 80s at one of the many Tupperware parties we hosted back then, keeping foods in the right containers will mean they last longer. Storing bread in a proper bread bin will keep it fresh, and keeping leftovers in sealed containers will mean they’ll stay edible for days afterwards.
And don’t forget you’re freezer. It’s always on so you might as well fill it up. Did you know you can freeze cakes, biscuits, fruit, mashed potato, cooked rice and red wine as well as the obvious meat, fish and ice cream? I always keep extra bread and milk in there just in case we run out too. Check storingandfreezing.co.uk for more good tips.
Making the time to plan how much you really need to buy from the supermarket could save you a fortune. You will probably find yourself buying less, and by planning in advance you’ll definitely waste less too. Lovefoodhatewaste.com has meal and portion planning online tools to help you work out exactly what you need to buy and how much to cook.
Take lunch to work
Another fool-proof money-saving tip, and one that’s bound to help you reduce what goes in the bin, is taking the leftovers into work for lunch. Who says microwaved mashed potato and ratatouille doesn’t taste better the day after?
Use everything up
I’m channelling my 1940s war-time spirit for this tip. Just because those strawberries are looking a bit dull and deflated, doesn’t mean they’re useless. Use over-ripe fruit in smoothies and boil leftover vegetables in stock to make homemade soups. Potato skins can be baked and eaten with sour cream, and stale bread can be used for croutons in soup or blitzed into breadcrumbs and frozen until needed.
Freganism is the term used to describe those who subsist on food discarded by others, mainly supermarkets. Although it’s associated with an anti-capitalist movement, the majority of freegans are simply appalled with the amount of food waste in our society. The Observer published an insightful piece on Freeganism in 2009 where you can learn more about it.
From a legal perspective, it appears to be a grey area. Although technically theft, the worst that has happened in the past, it would seem, is a ticking off by security guards. Supermarkets are probably all too aware that arresting someone for stealing their rubbish would provoke all kinds of ethical debates. If you can’t bring yourself to rummage through a dustbin, however, (and let’s face it, it’s not a particularly lustrous prospect) another option is…
Buy reduced to clear
It might hark back to your student days, but buying products with those yellow stickers on won’t just save you a few pennies, it also reduces the amount that the supermarket will be throwing away that night. I’ve started to view it more as an ethical purchase decision than an economic one these days.
Even if you do just one or two of these tips, you’ll be helping reduce the huge amount of food we throw away every year.