Reducing my food waste
Wasting food is one of things I do regularly that I feel pretty ashamed of. Along with eating meat and ordering off Amazon, it's one of the least ethical things I do.
In the past two weeks, I've thrown out:
- 1 kilo of Maris Piper potatoes, or half of the bag that I bought for a roast, because they were spoiling before I could use any more.
- Two small bags of Tesco's garlic and herb potatoes you stick in the microwave, gone off before I could buy the mackerel to go with them.
- Some cooked beetroot, gone off before i could use them in a pasta sauce that caught my eye then got resigned to 'one day'.
- M&S gold top milk, expired before I could use it all in the Hotel Chocolat Velvetiser.
- A few opened bottles of dark, normal, reduced sodium soy sauce, along with half a bottle of oyster sauce, not used in weeks due to not have had stir fries.
- Various salad ingredients - spinach, kale, watercress, cherry tomatoes (even in this day and age, which made me feel worse).
- Some fresh egg tagliattelle I didn't get round to using
- Leftovers left for way too long in the fridge.
That, on top of any timmings and waste produced during cooking, is just the stuff I remember.
We don't have a food bin, or really any space for it, so it pretty much all just goes in the general waste to end up in landfill, just like the other nine and a half million tonnes thrown out by UK homes and businesses. Meanwhile, just over four million people, including 9% of all children in the UK, currently live in food poverty.
How do I correct this?
First things first, let's analyse my shopping habits.
One a usual week, I'm getting at minimum:
- 250g of 5% fat beef mince
- 400g of sausage meat
- Canned tomatoes
- A bag of kale
- 4 pints of whole milk
- 2 bottles orange juice
- 2 bottles apple juice
- 5 sausage rolls (for the wife through the week)
- 1 bag of baby potatoes with herb butter
- 1 bag watercress salad
- 4 fillets of mackerel
- 12 pack of Walkers crisps
- Schweppes Diet Lemonade
- 2 boxes of Go Ahead bars
- Korma sauce
- Quorn 'chicken' pieces
- Dog treats and food
- Fresh tagliatelle
- M&S pasta night meal deal - various options of pasta parcels, sauces, and flatbreads; selection varies week by week
- Whatever meals I fancy for cheat day (almost always including pain au chocolat)
- Frozen chicken kiev's
- Frozen Goodfella's pizza
- Frozen potato things - sometimes starts, sometimes lattices.
- 2 packs of Granny Smith apples
Less often, we'll also buy porridge oats, herbs, seasoning, dried pasta and rice, and then the various household items and toiletries.
At the moment, I split my shopping pretty evenly between deliveries and in person shopping. Back at the old place, where weren't living across the road from a business park with two different supermarkets and didn't have a Lidl or an Aldi within a ten minute walk from home, we pre-dominantly relied on Tesco deliveries. Convenient, affordable, and came with the added bonus of clubcard points which we'd save and get about £30 to £40 off our Christmas food shop.
The downside is we were at the mercy of the shopping pickers for dates, or worse, substitutions. They're meant to shop for you as if they were shopping for themselves, but it doesn't always work out that way. Like when you buy sausage rolls for your wife's lunches for the week ahead, and they all expire by Tuesday. Or when all of the meat purchased expires in three days time, leavning you with basically nothing to cook the rest of the week and throwing out at least one of the things.
Even on weeks where I'd carefully plan, I'd say at least 10 to 15% of the food went in the bin, not counting expired leftovers and trimmings. Buying more frozen stuff was one possible avenue, but the last place was a maissonette so the bedroom, kitchen, and living room were all in one big space. Using the oven over Summer was a recipe for disaster.
Now, however, we have the luxury of local choice and space in the kitchen, so we don't fill the house up with heat and steam from using the oven or hob for too long.. Instead of getting everything from Tesco, I started getting half from there - frozen goods and meat where it's cheaper - and half from M&S or Morissons. Salads, fresh pasta, pastries, fruits, and some lunches and some meat or fish, as needed through the week.
Both are on my way back from the gym, so it's a quick one or two minute diversion at best to go over and pick up a few things for tea that night or lunch the next day, but there's still unused parts where I've just not got the through the bag quick enough before it spoils, or neither of us can be bothered with the cooking.
There's another problem though and the other reason why I'm taking another look into how I'm doing my shopping. Tesco are raising their minimum shop amount for delivery up from £40 to £50. Anything under that (before delivery charges, of course) leads to £5 now being added to your bill. Most weeks nowadays, I'm totally around the £45 mark (and that included the boxes of Celebrations I've been buying since Christmas), so I'll be basically throwing money away in return for a little bit of convenience and some more Christmas discounts.
So, what to do?
First things first, reduce the Tesco shops. We're reducing our meat intake gradually anyway, replacing the mince and sausage meat we use in the bolognase with frozen Quorn. There's always some things that will be cheaper there than other stores, and we can still rank up Clubcard points with a reduced shop. I figure household cleaning items, toiletries, frozen goods (although we're limited by our freezer on that point - problem for another day), and dried or canned goods will all be fine to get from there once a fortnight.
Reducing the Tesco shops does change my basket a little. The sausage rolls, for example. I could get them from Morrison's or Aldi/Lidl, but the latter are actually going up in cost, and Tesco is almost always cheaper for these. They're mostly a reliable choice for my wife to have for lunch; her eating habits aren't great, and doesn't like being in the kitchen necessarily. She wants to make healthier choices though, and this would be an easy to way to do that.
Second, make better and more intentional choices. For starters, whilst fresh egg tagliatelle is much, much more satisfying, it also has to be used quickly and doesn't come in small bags (at least, in my area). You can freeze it, sure, but we have limited space and if I'm filling it up fornightly from Tesco, I can't really rely on that. Also kind of defeats the object of buy fresh pasta (although it's never really 'fresh', I guess). Dried pasta will do the job just as well, and will basically never spoil.
On top of that, though, there's meal planning. Buying a bag of perishable goods is fine if I know for a fact that I'm going to eat them. Things like kale, cherry tomatoes, stir fry ingredients and sauces, and so on. It'll also help me plan out the little shops through the week, avoiding going back to the days of walking home carrying eight or nine bags of shoppping.
There will still be things that get in the way of the plan, like both of us having an exhausting day and little time left to eat before it gets too late. My thinking is though, by doing more mini-shops and less frozen food shops, there will be less in the house to eat other than what's planned and more resistance to eating the frozen food over what fresh food we have because the next delivery will be further away.
I can't necessarily prevent trimmings and scraps, but I can start actually using a food bin rather than it going to landfill. We've always been resistant to one, largely due to our previous circumstances (and because the situation got so dire in my house share one time, there were a whole load of maggots writing around the bottom; not an experience I'd like to repeat). However, I'm pretty sure I can find a solution to the problem, it's just finding the right space for it.
Like any problem caused by carelessness then, the answer essentially boils down to actually caring and putting in the effort to resolve it. I've been spoilt for too long with choices and options and the waste not really being 'my problem', or even really 'a problem'. It all gets taken care of somewhere somehow, right? It's basically an unavoidable fact of life, right?
But it is a problem, it's my problem, and I can take steps to make it a smaller one, even if that's by a fractional amount. Every little helps.
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