Food waste – and how to avoid it

Sustainability / Veganism

Food waste – and how to avoid it

Do you find yourself throwing away a lot of food that you purchased over the week, because it has gone bad? Then you’re (sadly) not alone! According to the Welthungerhilfe (world hunger aid), every household in Germany throws out about 75 kg of food each year! A lot of that can be avoided with just a few little tips.

What’s so bad about throwing away food?
Food that we buy in the supermarket has to be produced, obviously. And any food productions releases a lot of CO2 into our atmosphere – until a product finds its way into the supermarket. Even if we start composting our waste, we only give back a small fraction to the earth. Another important point is that in a lot of countries, there is an abundance of food, whereas in other parts of the world, like in the global south, people are starving. For personal reasons, think about that you are essentially throwing away your hard earned money, too. So there are many reasons to start appreciating the food that you buy and many reasons not to throw it away.

Step one: buy the right way
The first precautions to not throwing away too much food, is to not buy too much in the first place. When you go shopping, write a list of the things you really need. Try to avoid going shopping when you’re hungry, because we tend to buy too much and give into impulse purchases. The second thing is to avoid special offers – if they aren’t for items on your list. And even if they are, you might want to take a moment to think if you really would consume/eat all of it. If it’s something dried, that doesn’t need to be cooled and that has a long shelf life, then you will probably be able to keep it for longer, too.

Step two: storing is key
Once you’ve done your shopping, your food will now move into your home. To ensure that it will be fresh for the longest amount of time possible, it comes down to storing it correctly. This is actually, where the Welthungerhilfe estimates that more than half of the food waste that we produce, comes from: false storing. Because did you know that your fridge has different temperatures for different parts? The door of your fridge, for example, is on the warmer side and ideal for drinks, sauces, dressing and margarine. In your fridge, the bottom shelf is the same temperature and where you should store your veggies and some fruit, like carrots, cabbages, leafy greens, apples, pears, broccoli – but not all the veggies belong in the fridge (more on that later). Above that shelf is where your fridge is most likely the coolest. This is ideal for anything that has a short shelf-life, like tofu or tempeh. One floor up is for plant-based yogurt, cream cheese, or anything along those lines. The top shelf is ideal for storing yam, pickles, cheese and vegan spreads.

Once you’ve sorted out your fridge, let’s talk about what does NOT belong there: bread, tropical fruit, veggies that contain a lot of water, like tomatoes, cucumber, aubergine as well as garlic, onion and tomatoes. Those are best stored in a dark and cool (but not cooled) place. That being said, if your kitchen is very warm, it might be better to move these items into the fridge after a day or two. If you already cut part of the fruit, putting it in a tupper ware and moving it into the fridge is also well advised. A general rule of thumb: store everything in the fridge that you want to consume shortly and store everything else outside of the fridge – especially if you want to ripen your fruit and veggies.

! NOTE that apples and bananas produce a gas (ethylene) that can speed up the ripening process of other fruits and veggies, so they are better stored separately.

Step three: consumption
Now it’s time to think about turning your produce into meals. I recommend to check your veggies and other products in your fridge with a short shelf life, like tofu, yogurt. If anything looks a little bit sad or you know it’s been open for a while but is still looking good – then it’s time to cook and eat it. Stir fries, veggie-tray-bakes or mixed soups are a great way to turn those products into delicious meals. Don’t be shy to add their leaves and skin, too – just make sure to wash them thoroughly. For example, I add the stem of the broccoli to my meals and use potatoes and carrots with their skin. If that’s not really your vibe, another great way to use veggies scarps is to collect them in a bag in the freezer and then use them every once in a while to make a delicious veggie stock from scratch.

Confused by the best-before date?
You are not alone! Best-before dates are usually a safety measure and all packaged products must have them – even though many products can still be eaten long after they have officially expired. That being said, before you throw something away, follow these steps:
1) look at it – does it look bad/mouldy? if yes – throw it out
if not -> 2) open it and smell it – does it still smell ok/normal? if no – throw it out,
if yes -> 3) try it. if it still tastes ok, you can probably still eat it. If not, then throw it out.

When you’re cooking, make sure to think about the amount that you’re preparing. While a lot of meals can be stored in the fridge or frozen, it’s worth to either meal prep properly, so knowing when you’ll eat the leftovers, or perhaps try to only cook one portion at the time. If you need to use a lot to produce at once, you might consider some of these emergency tips:

Step four: emergencies
Are you suddenly finding a lot of produce in your kitchen that needs to be used? While you can simply turn some of them into a delicious meal, there are some ideas to preserve your produce or, even better, bring them back to life. Because a lot of fresh produce, such as bread or veggies, can be bought back to life to be fresh again – because they are only loosing moisture.

If a product has gone mouldy, you are best-advised to throw out the entire product. If there are any brown spots, however, you can simply cut that off and still use the rest. A lot of veggies start to wilt and become soft and wrinkly – typically carrots, radishes and other root veggies. But they are simply loosing moisture. You can bring them back to life by letting them soak in water. I’d recommend to research for tips to bring back the veggies that are looking sad and find the best way to give them a second chance. Same goes for bread – brushing it in a bit of water and putting it in the oven for a few minutes is a great way to bring the smell of fresh-baked bread into your kitchen.

What about food that can’t be brought back to life? The most obvious option is to freeze it. For most fruit and veggies, you can however preserve it in multiple ways. Turning fruits into delicious jams, compote or fruit sauces allows your fruit to live for a few more weeks. Mixing fruits and veggies is an option to make chutneys or relishes. And finally, pickling veggies, cooking it and turning it into a sauce (like tomatoes) is a great way to always have a tasty way to pimp up your meals on hand. Herbs can also are preserved, as you can always turn them into a pesto (that is a great way for carrot tops, too) or add them to a small bottle of oil for flavour or add them to ice cube moulds, covering them in oil and freezing them so that you can later use them for cooking.

Stale bread can also be transformed multiple ways. For one, you can blend it and turn it into bread crumbs. Or cutting it into small pieces, tossing them in spices and oil to create delicious bread chips or croutons. And lastly, something that I do frequently, is add small bread chunks to a bread salad (panzanella) or turn them into dumplings for a delicious meal.

As you can see, the options are endless and there is no need to throw food out simply because the best-before date has gone off or because your carrots look sads. Even though it’s best to reduce the food that you won’t use in the first place, there are a lot of last-minute saves and ideas for you products, so that you can keep them for longer. As you probably have similar types of food in your kitchen, it might be worth researching some ideas and recipes that fit you own personal taste and shopping list.

One step at a time, let’s reclaim the waste!



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