The numbers are overwhelming. One billion people on this planet are hungry. Every year, six million people die from starvation. In other parts of the world, tonnes and tonnes of food end up in the bin. One-third of all the food produced, about 1.3 billion tonnes, is thrown away. In other words, there is plenty of food – an overabundance, even – but it is being wasted. There are things that can be done at every point in the food chain to prevent this waste.
What can we do at home to help prevent this waste?
If you want to do something right now to prevent this wasting of food, you can start by changing your perspective. First of all, let’s stop insisting that people, old and young alike, eat more. Trying to get someone who is full to eat more food is just an invitation for them to leave it on the plate. Even babies recognise when they are full.
Psychologists say that we have a problem with empty spaces, which is why we like to see our cupboards and fridges constantly full. Let’s stop doing this. Let’s embrace the empty space. Unnecessary stockpiling is the reason that many ingredients go off.
The most important thing is to strengthen our relationship with the ingredients. As we have become estranged from nature, we have become blind to how food is grown – the labour involved and the magic behind it all. It is a fact that we need to be much more conscious of everything from fruits, vegetables and grains to beef, chicken and fish.
Here are a few practical tips:
Make a list! Always make a list before you go shopping. This can keep you from those impulsive but unnecessary purchases. Avoid pre-packaged vegetables and fruits. It may be cheaper in the short run but wasted food is always expensive in the end.
The important thing is inner beauty. Many fruits and vegetables never find their way to the shelves because of their appearance. Their colour, shape or size don’t conform to the visual standards of beauty so they are thrown in the bin. Don’t get hung up on outer appearance. Buy the “ugly” fruit and veg from the farmer’s markets.
Don’t obsess over the expiry date. Many foods can be consumed after the expiry date written on the package. This date is generally a date determined by the producers and indicates the time frame in which the product is best. It isn’t the date on which it will go off. Don’t throw things away without trying them.
Make it a habit to eat the food in the order that you bought it. Eat the food in your cupboards or fridge before you buy more of the same thing. If you have just gone shopping, move the stuff in the back of the cupboard to the front. Even better, designate a separate shelf for products that need to be consumed more quickly. If you don’t think you can consume something before it goes off, use the freezer. You can do the same thing with takeaway food.
Make use of the stems and roots. Our grandparents knew how to use every part of an ingredient. Gather information about how to use leftovers the next day. If there are still leftovers, compost them in the garden or even under the sink rather than throwing them away. If you still have leftovers, give them to an animal shelter. Declare one day a week as a day of no wasted food. Instead of making a new dish, use ingredients that are going off and any leftovers.
Store food properly. Keep things like spices, nuts and crackers in airtight jars. Keep fresh fruits and vegetables in the right part of the fridge. Take up canning. Make jam, tomato paste and pickles.
Listen to yourself. Remember that it takes the signal that we are full 15-20 minutes to travel from the stomach to the brain. Listen to yourself when you are filling your plate or ordering in a restaurant.
Cemre Narin is a freelance food writer and cook based in Istanbul, and has been the culinary and restaurant editor of Vogue Turkey since 2010. A former clinical psychologist, lived and worked in the US and Jordan. Co-writer of the cookbook: Icindekiler (Ingredients), Academy Chair at The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, co-creator of the international food conference YEDI (Seven).