“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
~ J.R.R. Tolkien
“The mountains of things we throw away are much greater than the things we use. “~ John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America
“Fruits and veggies named the top categories for food waste” says a Michael Mui article today at Vancouver 24Hrs free newspaper.
With drought in California (where at least 50% of BC’s fruits, vegetables and nuts come from), greenhouse gases emissions increasing and all the hunger and malnutrition in the world, food waste is not only an ethical problem (how on earth are we wasting so much food when people are going hungry even here in Canada?), but also an environmental problem (food waste causes more greenhouse emissions than some entire countries do) and a home economics problem (we buy most of the things we could easily make at home…with the food we currently waste!)
Over the last few weeks and guided by a kind of “internal urgency” to be more at home and doing homesteading stuff, I have been re-visiting old skills, checking books and videos all dealing with food waste reduction: the old and almost forgotten arts of home economics and food preservation.
Yes, we can save money, contribute with the overall reduction of greenhouse gases, world hunger and malnutrition and, at the same time, increase family’s health, skills and communion by working together on food preservation.
Last April 15 my partner and I started a MOOC together, called “The Ethics of Eating”; the MOOC has taken us through the IFS (Industrial Food System) and we also had the opportunity to watch and read articles and videos from different angles. That led me to read Peter Singer and Jim Mason’s book “The Ethics of What We Eat” and re-think our entire relationship with food.
Today, I will just share some ways you can contribute to avoiding food waste, some of which I have adopted long time ago, some of which are new to our family and I’m still struggling with how to do it all while keeping a full-time job and studying all the courses I’m studying.
Food waste: avoiding it from the start
It sounds basic, but most of us in the “developed” world tend to buy more than we need and that includes food: we are presented with what looks like a huge amount of variety and “choices” when we go to the supermarket, the local grocery store, the delicatessen store and even the farmers’ market.
The reality is that a big percentage of what we buy can be made at home, most of what we perceive as “choices” and “variety” are only different ways of packaging and luring through colours, shapes, artificial flavours and misleading messages through families smiling, logos and descriptions that nothing have to do with the reality of what’s inside. This is the #1 reason why so many of us are obese and suffer from some kind of digestive dysfunction, allergy and so on…
The best way to avoid this?
- Do not overwhelm yourself! Take a deep breath and take it easy: I have changed (and still in the process to change) my and my family food habits through years of trial and error, frustrations and joys, great mistakes and great findings and so on…do not attempt to do all this at once!
- Start a journal and note what your family consumes: types of products, brands, quantities, when…better of you have a journal for each member. This will also allow you to see correlations between mood, allergies and digestive problems and the food or beverages that were consumed that day or week. Visit the market and note how much each one of those items cost. If possible, do some research to see how they are manufactured, where the raw ingredients come from and who is involved in the process.
- Plan ahead what you’ll cook/eat that week (but leave some room for flexibility, I’m the first one who may come home from work and not been in the mood to eat what was “planned” for that day)
- Start checking what items from the list can be bought in bulk and kept for long without refrigeration; which ones require some kind of preservation; which ones are seasonal; which ones are local; which ones may be produced in your balcony, garden or plot; which ones can be made from scratch at home; which ones are essentials and which ones are “wants”
- Start exploring and experimenting with areas that appeal more to you. I started by growing herbs and easy-to-grow vegetables such as green leaves…I grow most of them in containers but also have a community garden plot. If you don’t have space, try containers close to a sunny window, a friend’s backyard or a community garden.
- Try one or two new things each season and involve your partner, children, friends or other family members: I started with bread-making years ago because my family loves bread, then continue with dehydrating, canning, yogurt making and cheesemaking. Now I am exploring fermenting…but you can start at any level following your family preferences and level of comfort
- For the things you are still buying, try new options: I tried a CSA and that experience allowed me to make new friends and try new vegetables we didn’t know existed. The CSA ended up being too much for us as we were also growing our own veggies, so we decided to end the subscription. You can also try visiting local farmers markets, buying in bulk directly from farmers and canning/dehydrating/freezing or fermenting the surplus. You can try buying through local food co-ops (and helping the local economy) or sustainable food delivery methods (in Vancouver we have Green Earth Organics and Spud). For things you still need to buy at the supermarket, make a list before going and avoid buying when you are hungry, upset or depressed (studies show we tend to buy much more of what we don’t need when our mood is not at its best)
What to do with the surplus
Here are methods I have been using for years or months, in the next months I may share some of them through this blog or real-life workshops for those who want to try right away:
- Canning: I love canning fruits, salsas and vegetables. I prefer boiling over pressure because the type of food I can (high acidity such as tomatoes, most fruits, etc) and because is low risk and more fun. But if you follow the instructions carefully, you can “can” almost any type of food or beverage…canning allows you to save money and time if you buy your fruits and vegetables locally when they are in season (and preferable from a farmer whose methods you trust). Canned marmalades, fruits and salsas make also a great gift.
- Dehydrating: you don’t need to buy an expensive dehydrator to do this, but if you plan to do it every year, it is highly recommendable to have one. You can also explore solar dehydrators and other methods if you have enough sun (and patient). Well dehydrated foods keep for months and take advantage of surplus in herbs/spices, vegetables and fruits, among other things (even flowers!)
- Freezing: freezing is probably the easiest method of them all and allows you to buy in bulk things that cannot be preserved in any other way, such as bread, milk, butter, cheese, etc. The downside is that you’ll need space for a big freezer and your consumption of electricity will go up
- Fermenting: fermenting is one of the oldest methods for food preservation because it doesn’t require buying specialized equipment or increase on energy use such as in canning, dehydrating or freezing. Fermented food also has the advantage of being great for your health and digestive system…and it is probably the easiest method of food preservation that provides the most variety at the same time! (I personally love it!)
- Root cellar/pantry: many vegetables, fruits and other food such as cheese, bread, etc can be preserved for weeks or even months in root cellars and pantries. Some foods require darkness, a cool environment and reduced moisture while others may require a different set up. Non-perishable foods also preserve well and help in rainy days for food security. The secret for this to work is rotation and labeling. Look at the resources section for more info
- Growing your own stuff: Growing what you eat and love helps your overall health and your pocket. It also avoids food waste because you will be least inclined to leave food to spoil if you put effort, resources and love into growing it
- Making your own stuff: I make our own yogurt (from heirloom mother culture I bought once and kept forever), cheese (also from mother culture) and some bread (same); I also make vinegar and household cleaning products and experiment with many other things. Making your own avoids waste for the same reasons growing your own do: you won’t throw what you made!…making your own allows you to have full control on where your food comes from, have self-reliance in food security and save money (even if it is in the mid or long term). It takes time but it is fun and much better time spent than going through the supermarket aisles as a zombie buying stuff you don’t need
- Using the unavoidable waste to increase the yield on your system: there will always be things you can’t use on anything else and will need to “throw”: from egg shells to fruit peels, vegetables roots, etc. Before you throw them into the organic garbage bin, think again! Apple peels and cores can be used to make vinegar, fruits and vegetables peels may be used to make broth, cakes or added to soups and casseroles (many also make great marmalades!). Egg shells are a great addition to your garden (if baked and smashed) and the rest can go into your composting pile or to your worms in the vermin-composting: they will be converted into wonderful humus (by the worms) or great compost and compost tea (compost bin) and can be added to your garden or containers to enhance the nutrition of your plants!
Other ethical considerations
These don’t add much to the avoidance of food waste but are related to another waste problem: packaging and another ethical problem: animal welfare, environment and biodiversity degradation and climate change:
- Reduce or avoid packaging when buying food or household items: I am still struggling with this. You’ll face people’s looking at you as if you went nuts and many stores will look at you as an annoyance. But start small: I have my own reusable produce bags and keep jars and bags for things that can be bought unpackaged such as rice, quinoa, flour, sugar, granola and the like.
- Reduce your consumption of meat and dairy/animal products, switch to humane and organic methods or consider becoming vegetarian or even vegan: meat and dairy production are one of the major contributions to climate change through deforestation and cows emissions (methane). The industrial meat production system is also highly unethical with the animals: they are raised and kept with the solely goal of being used and killed for our consumption. The life conditions are many times outrageous. If you are not ready or cannot switch to vegan or vegetarian, try looking into alternatives such as buying products from local farmers whose practices are ethical and humane and reduce the consumption of meat and dairy overall (it is not healthy to consume as much as we currently do in “developed” countries anyways)
- Reduce the consumption of imported and manufactured food: imported and manufactured food consume energy and produce greenhouse emissions. When food comes from far away or is highly manufactured, you don’t have real control on how it is produced, who is involved and what exactly are the ingredients. The food industry takes advantage of cheap labour and migrants and does all what they can to reduce costs (which impacts in the quality of the product and therefore in your health)
- Reduce the consumption of non-seasonal food: non seasonal food needs to be produced overseas or in greenhouses. This uses lots of energy (to heat and maintain the greenhouses and to transport and keep the food in “good shape”). Non-seasonal food is usually treated with different chemicals and hormones to make it ripen at the “right time” or to keep from ripening and going bad.
Have any other tips of resources?
Share them with me and my followers!!!
Here are some blogs and websites I follow:
Cultures for Health: excellent for buying cultures and equipment and an excellent source of free eBooks, information and recipes on cheese, bread and yogurt making, fermenting and sprouting. They also have excellent customer service through their chatting service, and you can but cultures once and forever as many are reusable and heirlooms:
Down to Earth: probably the best blog on homesteading and simplifying, full of ideas, projects and recipes it also has a forum where you can ask questions and share information with others:
FarmCurious: from recipes to articles to products for homesteaders.
Read Nutrition: all kind of stuff and info about homesteading, preppers and more…
Love Food Hate Waste Website: http://www.lovefoodhatewaste.ca/
Say no to food waste blog: http://saynotofoodwaste.org/what-can-you-do/