A week or so ago, I saw a lot of twitter debate about the BBC Food and drink programme entitled Every Last Crumb which involved Michel Roux and Mary Berry offering their own food waste tips. One of the main areas of debate was that more expensive food keeps better and that if food were more expensive, we would waste less. I disagree with this, I personally agree with Michel Roux, who argued that regardless of how much food costs; the attitude to wastefulness is the most important factor in reducing food waste.
Mary Berry who lived through rationing, argued that the reason the younger generation waste more food is down to lack of education and in part I’d agree with this. I’m a self-taught cook, who has learnt how to use up various ingredients through trial, error and experimentation but at the same time I don’t ever remember my mum throwing anything away. Roasts were made to last a couple of days with the left-overs served up on a Monday, the dark meat that no-one wanted to eat was thrown into a curry and a large proportion of the weekly shop went straight into the freezer to ensure that the food was preserved as long as possible.
In part I think that some of the problem comes from the huge choice and availability that we have in supermarkets. As a child dinner was generally meat and two veg, dishes that didn’t require huge amounts of ingredients. The food revolution and the abundance of TV cookery programmes has meant that people have become much more inventive in the kitchen. The problem with world cuisine and restaurant quality dishes is that they often require multiple unusual ingredients that can’t necessarily be used in every day cooking. The act of planning one meal at a time hinders the ability to reduce food waste.
This is where meal planning comes to the forefront of reducing food waste and it was great to hear Mary Berry talk about this. The action of looking through your fridge weekly to see what needs using up and planning a meal with these ingredients before heading out to the supermarket is the key to ensuring that the majority of perishables are used up.
Another key point that came out of the programme was that it’s perfectly acceptable to substitute ingredients. If a recipe calls for a particular cheese or herb, there’s nothing wrong with substituting that ingredient with something that you already have in stock. This is something that I do regularly, for items such as dried herbs, a quick Google will tell you what alternatives can be used for something that you don’t currently have in the kitchen cupboard. Here is a great table to get you started. For shallots I use onions; sometimes a stir-fry calls for chicken but I only have beef or pork in the freezer, the list is goes on. This might not be how it’s done in restaurants and it might alter the taste of a dish slightly but remember restaurants are cooking for multiple diners and buy only the quantities they need. Before you buy a large batch of a particular ingredient ask yourself will you use it? If not, can it be substituted?
Regardless of some of the debates that the programme raised, it’s great to see prime time TV putting a focus on how to reduce food waste. It’s not just the BBC giving airtime to the issue; Channel 4 is now in its second series of Jamie’s money saving meals, where recipes are made from leftovers, the show is also filled with tips on substituting & preserving ingredients.
Also in the media is Sainsbury’s make your roast go further campaign, championed by the wonderful Jack Monroe. With this increasing focus on thriftiness and wastefulness, hopefully attitudes and habits to food waste will change, as we are all capable of making small changes that will help reduce the growing problem of food waste.