We are just at the beginning of the second term of university and many second and first years will have been introduced to cooking for themselves. Many will have noticed how much of their food has gone straight into the bin.
When I first started cooking I was decidedly hopeless. I threw away almost half of what I bought and burnt simple dishes. I was learning. Fortunately I lived with someone who showed me the basics. I stuck to dried pasta, pre-made sauces and frozen fish. It was simple but it got me through. I would sometimes get adventurous and buy fresh ingredients. After making something I would undoubtedly throw the rest away. Unfortunately, my past methods are closer to the norm than they should be.
Studies have suggested that the UK wastes an incredible amount of food. Each household throws away on average £500 worth a year, and this makes up about 50% of the total food waste in the UK. We all know we should not be wasteful but perhaps we do not know the impact our wastefulness can have.
“Each household throws away on average £500 worth a year, and this makes up about 50% of the total food waste in the UK”
When I was growing up there were endless adverts and appeals to feed the less fortunate in countries far away. They showed children suffering from kwashiorkor (a bloated stomach) and individuals lying in the dirt, their skin like paper clinging to their bones. They were merciless. Although the adverts have lessened and our focus has shifted to other pressing issues, the hunger crisis continues.
Year after year, people living under the extreme poverty line (living on less than $1.90 a day) has fallen, sitting at around 10% now as measured by the World Bank. It is constantly driven downwards by the hard work of a multitude of charities and an influx of foreign aid. But 10% is still huge; 795 million people is too many.
Giving money to the available charities makes a huge difference. Loans can be given to individuals to start food production in these impoverished areas, or go towards funding the programmes that distribute donated food. Yet, in my opinion, the area in which each of us can have the greatest impact, especially as students, is to reduce the waste figure.
“The area in which each of us can have the greatest impact, especially as students, is to reduce the waste figure”
If we want to solve this continued crisis then we need to use our resources as effectively as possible. By consuming less, it can become profitable for companies to export to developing countries as well, or in many cases keep the food in those countries. Legislation can help here, and more pushes should be made for it, but we can make the change ourselves by putting on pressure through our own spending habits. And you save money, so win-win.
With practice, and a lot of help, I learned to love cooking and baking. I have really tried to minimise what I put in the bin both for the issues above and for the simple fact that it is far more satisfying to live an efficient lifestyle. Below are some of my best tips to enjoy food and waste less:
Plan. Each week you can plan out exactly what you will cook and exactly what you need to buy. And when it comes to fresh ingredients you should only buy exactly what you need, do not get drawn in by the big bags! I find I need to plan 3-4 meals to cook, which are usually on the order of 4 servings, which produces enough for lunches and dinners for the entire week.
Build up a good pantry. Fill your cupboard with dried pulses, rice, nuts and pasta. Having a good stock of these things means you will always have a meal on hand, and there are easy ways to make anything delicious.
Get a cookbook. Yes the internet is wonderful, but for me it does not beat a book. The beautiful food they showcase not only makes you want to cook, but they also tend to guide you more. If it is your first, find one that fits your diet and is simple and work your way through. My favourite book by far is Isa does it, a vegan cookbook I got from family and have cooked with ever since, although I am still not a vegan.
Use your freezer. If you are fortunate and have a freezer, use it. Buy some boxes to store food and when you make a meal put the excess away. Keep enough in the fridge for two days and then put the rest away in the freezer. Only recently did I start doing this and it has changed my life. I used to cook everyday, and when life was busy it was a problem. My ambition for good food exceeded my energy. Now, when I have the time, I cook a lot and store it away and during exhausting days I always have a decent meal. Also freeze bread. Frozen bread does not lose its texture like it does in the fridge and it will keep for longer. I bake my own now, and this is the only way I can have good bread everyday.
Do not fear the date. When that best before date comes, use your brain. A carrot two days over date is fine. If it gets very soft then of course throw it out, but not because the date tells you to. They are a guide, one to be heeded more when it comes to meat and dairy, but still a guide. Through planning the dates won’t come anyway.
Eat well. It keeps you healthier and happier. Use fresh ingredients as much as you can and be adventurous. You can make food far better than most restaurants, and you know exactly what goes into it. And if you can, cook with others; great food is meant to be shared.
Eating is one the greatest joys, and we need to be conscious that not all have that joy. By taking good care of yourself and eating smartly, you also help others and save money.
Images found on flickr