The ‘Food Waste’ Problem

I recently came across an article in the Washington Post published in August 2018, titled “The climate impact of the food in the back of your fridge”. The article states that 30 % of food is wasted (globally) equalling 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. “If food waste were a country, it would come in third after the United States and China in terms of impact on global warming.” It goes on to point out that in poorer countries the loss is 40% and this occurs during harvest and processing but in medium to high-income countries 40% is wasted after production.

My interpretation of this is that those of us who live in first world countries are incredibly wasteful with the food we buy. Of course, food is also wasted within the retail setting, with supermarkets and other retail outlets contributing their share to the waste. Organisations such as Food Share, Oz Harvest and food banks are endeavouring to address some of the waste. This is an area that each household has a direct ability to address. Knowing that wasting food is costing us money should be a motivating point that encourages us to use the food we buy more wisely but obviously this isn’t enough.

Just the mention of global warming and climate change seems to incite more than debate. Something I read on social media recently really struck a chord with me. I couldn’t find it when I went looking but it said something along the lines of ‘what if we improve the world and climate change turns out to be a hoax?’ My thoughts are Yay! the world will be a better cleaner place regardless!

The last days of 2019 and the beginning of 2020 were horrendous across Australia with bush fires and bizarre weather events including extreme heat over an extended period. As I write this it is 43 degrees in NSW’s Riverina again. Surely anything we can do to make changes that may directly affect what is going on around us is worth doing.

None of us are perfect and even though we are lucky enough to have chickens, dogs and compost to minimise our food waste, there are still times when I find a mouldy gross container hiding at the back of the fridge with no alternative but to go in the bin. I need to greatly increase my fridge awareness so that this does not occur. Currently, I empty the fridge on a Tuesday evening (bin night) but I feel I need to add a second surveillance day into the mix. Luckily, if we have food in the cupboard that is well past its use-by date it can usually be consumed by the chickens!

Food waste occurs most through poor shopping practices with more food being purchased than can be eaten before the quality is reduced. One way to prevent this is to buy only what you need and can use during your normal shopping period whether this be one week or one month. Menu planning is crucial to this. Making a menu plan for one week, a fortnight or a month does not take up a lot of time and has many benefits. I find that if kids have input into the menu plan, they are more likely to eat the meal placed in front of them – a big win in my experience. It also ensures that you have variety in your diet, and you know ahead of time what you will be cooking and eating rather than experiencing a last-minute scramble each day. Knowing what you will be eating each day means that you are able to make a detailed shopping list of the ingredients you will need. A quick scan of the pantry while writing your list will let you know if there are pantry staples that you need to replace.

I follow a couple of American blogs focussed on frugal living (I am not saying I put them into practice, but I do enjoy reading them). In these blogs menu planning and food shopping is an artform! You really don’t need to go that far but if you live a busy life it helps take some of the stress away.

Being conscious of left-over food and what you do with it will decrease the incidence of mouldy remains in the back of the fridge. I tend to cook more than is needed (a legacy of growing up in a family of 7) but we eat leftovers for lunches, or they get frozen for future consumption. If I am cooking a meal such as Lasagne or a casserole I deliberately make enough for several meals and freeze them and either incorporate them into a future menu plan or use them when I can’t be bothered cooking or we are later home than usual. We live a 30-minute drive from any takeaways so with this not being an option, having a few ready-made meals in the freezer is a bonus. I also find that if the meals are in the freezer for too long, they are still edible for the dogs and chickens so are not wasted.

In some areas there are groups that will take your food scraps to feed chickens or worm farms or to be composted in community gardens. If you don’t have your own compost this could be a very easy solution for you. Some schools have school gardens with compost bins or chickens. It wouldn’t harm anyone to ask if you can contribute your food waste to these initiatives. The worst that can happen is that they say no and you keep investigating solutions.

If you are someone who keeps a stock of food in your pantry, make sure you check the dates regularly and rotate your stock so that you use it before it goes out of date. It might seem extreme to some, but I have been known to use products that have been attacked by pantry moths in baked goods that go directly to my chooks. They aren’t likely to find a bag of floor too appetising but if I mix it with some garlic (good for worming chooks) they devour it happily and get the added protein of weevils. To tell you the truth if I was desperate, I would probably sieve out any weevils and still use the flour, what is an extra bit of protein between friends?

Many of the issues in our society are out of our control. I know that I cannot make any changes to the 40% of food wasted in developing countries unless I was able to build more effective factories etc. which is just not within my scope. I can however change the practices of my household and ensure that we are not sending any food waste at all to landfill. I understand that Australia only contributes 3% to greenhouse gases and my little bit of food waste is incredibly minimal in the whole scheme of things but I am going to make the changes that I can, please join me in reducing your food waste too.

It would be great to hear how you are going to make changes in your practices in the comments section on our Facebook page.