Never before in the existence of humanity has our planet been subject to such a burgeoning strain. The recent IPCC report sounds a final warning before the effects of climate change are irreversible. Carbon emissions continue to be the driver of these changes with the agriculture and forestry sectors contributing 25% of all greenhouse gas emissions.
To worsen the challenge, the global population continues to grow exponentially while the climate is changing at a rapid pace. These two factors place a tremendous amount of pressure on our food systems. Agriculture continues to struggle to keep up with demand due to changing environmental conditions, depleted soil quality and a growing population. That being said, over one third of food produced globally goes to waste. That equates to around 1.3 billion tonnes per year. All of the one billion hungry people in the world could be fed on just a quarter of what is wasted in the US and Europe alone. Project Drawdown, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping the world reduce greenhouse gases, categorizes food waste and shifting diets as a main driver of change in the food system. In a nutshell, eating lower on the food chain and ensuring all food grown gets consumed will make a significant impact on lowering farming inputs, land clearing and the associated emissions.
The fact is, there is enough food to go around and we are more than capable of producing enough food to sustain the global population while still reducing carbon emissions.
So the question is this: how do we, collectively, reduce food waste and be part of the solution? In most developed countries, half of food waste occurs in the home, which makes our kitchens the first most logical place to start.
The Easy Things
The following have immediate effects on our lives on an individual level and can be achieved with minimal effort.
- Save leftovers – Cooked too much? Ordered too much take-out? Save it for the next day! Most prepared foods will save in the fridge for at least 3 days. Plus, it’ll save you money.
- Shop less frequently and only buy what you need – People often idolize ‘fresh produce’ but then load up on them and allow them to get old. Shopping more frequently for groceries will allow a better management of your food and reduce the chances of spoilage.
- Don’t fear best before dates – ‘Best before’ dates are an indication of food quality, not food safety. Eating items that are just past their best before dates will be perfectly fine. ‘Expiration’ dates signal when the nutritional values of the food are no longer representative of what they were at time of production.
The Harder Things
Fermentation is a critical part of this puzzle and can greatly reduce the amount of food that is discarded. The only thing is, it can take time, effort and some learning. Vegetable and meat scraps can be turned into miso, shoyu (soy sauce), wine and vinegar.
Old fruits can be a great flavouring for kombucha, or made into a tasty jam or relish. And think of the brag to have made your own miso!
It’s also important to note that transforming an ingredient when at the end of it’s life is do-able without fermentation. The next time your milk is about to expire, Google “ricotta recipe” and try making some fresh cheese. You’ll get another 5-7 days of life out of it and your tomatoes will have a new best friend!
Nose to Tail/Root to Flower
Most parts of the plants and animals available for our consumption are edible. Some elements are more simple to prepare, but the greatest rewards often come with the greatest effort . Eating the lesser ‘desirable’ ingredients can improve your culinary knowledge and expertise while surprising you with a delicious end result.
For example, cauliflower florets are generally the only part of the vegetable that is eaten. So instead of discarding the cauliflower hearts, try roasting them or throwing them into a stir fry. The leaves and ribs can be sliced and fermented much like sauerkraut.
The Upshot of Reducing Food Waste
The immediate results for the individual are obvious: a reduction in your grocery bill. But the global implications are much more impactful.
In reducing food waste, the demand for food decreases. Firstly, this eases the pressure on agriculture but would also reduce the cost of food, not only in developed nations but in those countries where the western demand for the produce grown there has made food unaffordable for the incumbent population.
It will also be a step towards feeding the 800 million food insecure and one billion hungry people in the world. In reducing waste in our food systems, we are freeing up a greater availability of food for others. By 2050 it is predicted that the global population will contain an additional 2.3 billion people. In reducing our waste, we are giving our future a chance at survival.
Big issues like those of our environment and the health of the planet often seem insurmountable challenges, but broken down into very tangible things you can do in your own home, suddenly become manageable and have instant results. Push your kitchen towards zero waste and see how much you can save your wallet and the world.