How to reduce home food waste
With households in the UK throwing away more than 7 million tonnes of food, it’s more important than ever for us all to make our own small-scale but significant changes at home. Sustainable companies such as Rubies in the Rubble are dedicated to using up food that would otherwise go to waste. All too often we end up with yellowing bunches of coriander stuck to the back of the fridge or alien-looking potatoes that are more sprout than starch, so, taking inspiration from Jenny Costa, founder of Rubies in the Rubble, we explore how to reduce our food waste at home.
Where to begin?
Rubies in the Rubble has been rescuing fruit and veg since 2011, when Jenny visited Covent Garden Market in south London to see if she could save any unused vegetables. She returned home with more mangetout than it was possible to eat. Jenny says: “I had all these mangetout and no idea what to do with them, so when my flatmate and I got bored of having them for every meal I rang my mum for advice on preserving them. I still get a lot of my recipe inspiration from her; as long as I follow her rules for the correct ratio of sugar, fruit and vinegar – you can add anything from nuts, cocoa and even alcohol.” If you can be creative, there are so many ways to use up food that would otherwise end up on the compost heap, or worse, in landfill.
Freezing fresh food is a great way to extend its shelf life. Meals can be cooked in batches and frozen individually in reusable tubs, so that you have a healthy homemade ready meal to hand when there’s no time to cook something elaborate. Berries that are starting to go a little soft can be frozen in neat portion sizes to add to a smoothie for a quick, no-hassle breakfast, or they can be added to ice cubes with flower petals to liven up soft drinks and cocktails. It’s also been found that 30% of us will throw away a banana which has a small bruise. Bruised bananas still taste just as delicious, so there’s no need to waste food and money throwing them away. Instead, add them to your frozen bags of berries for a smoothie, or mash them into banana bread. Dairy products like milk and butter also freeze surprisingly well, and if you realise you’re out of milk after the shops have shut, it’s useful to have a spare carton that can be left to defrost in the fridge overnight, ready for a morning cuppa.
A little lateral thinking can transform a dish, so instead of rushing out to buy fresh ingredients if you are missing one ingredient for a recipe, try substituting in something different. Jenny is an advocate of not sticking so militantly to recipes, she says: “If you’re making something that needs parsley, and you have a huge bunch of coriander, why not experiment and use that instead?” This creative thinking is reflected in the way Rubies in the Rubble partners with businesses: Virgin Trains, for example, now serve a chutney as part of their first-class menu made from the surplus apples on their trains.
Rubies in the Rubble are renowned for their creative preserves – why not take a leaf out of their book? Making chutneys and jams is far simpler than you might think, and a productive way to spend a rainy day. Using up over-ripe veg can extend its shelf life by up to two years! It’s not just vegetables we can preserve. Every time we buy a fresh pot of basil, chives or rosemary for the windowsill, we vow that this time we won’t over-water it, forget about it, or leave it within swiping distance of the cat and a perilous drop to the floor, and every time we end up with sad, shrivelled leaves within days. Infusing oils with herbs is a great way of using them up and transforming salads and sauces for weeks to come.
Forage in the fridge
Before completing a big shop or buying ingredients for an unusual recipe, do a quick stock-take of the cupboards, fridge and freezer. It can be easy to forget about ingredients that we use less often, particularly opened jars that work their way to the back of the fridge or cupboard. Try writing a list and sticking it to the cupboard door; when items run out, cross them off the list, so that they can be added to the next shopping list. It’ll save money and ensure we don’t end up with three half-empty jars of caper berries vying for precious cupboard space.
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