Food Waste. Australia, we need to talk.
How to reduce, reuse and live more sustainably this year
“690 million people around the world were affected by hunger in 2019,” this is said to increase following the impact of the pandemic. In Australia, 2.5 million tonnes of edible food is disposed of each year, which is equal to 300kgs per person… and if you’re a budget cruncher, that’s $616 per household.
To simplify a rather rotten topic... the food we dispose of into landfill decays and releases methane. Methane is 30 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, contributing to global warming. If that’s not enough of a reason to reduce food waste, disposing of perfectly good food is also a huge waste of the water, fertilizer and packaging used to grow and transport it to you.
Why are we throwing it away?
Unfortunately, food labelling plays a large role in our often unthinking disposal behaviours. Confusion around use-by and best before dates, as well as food poisoning bacterial concerns means we’re more likely to give up on food too soon. There are also regulations on how our food should look, perfectly shaped without any defects – diet culture got to the vegetables! This time of year, people are heading off on holidays post-Christmas or family has been and gone, and there is bound to be leftovers in the house. There are a few things we can do now and, in the future, to reduce the amount we throw away.
Planning your shopping list for specific dishes instead of that last-minute buy anything panic can significantly reduce the amount of food left sitting in the fridge. Taking five minutes to check the pantry and fridge, and write out a list of necessities, you can even collaborate with the family on dishes they might like to try or bring back old favourites! Not only can we buy less food, but check the packaging the food is in is recyclable and buy less plastic. Reusable shopping and produce bags can easily be kept in the car or your handbag for quick access.
Thankfully, the rise of celebrating fresh produce in all its misshaped glory is now! You can now buy the odd and ‘ugly’ from major supermarkets in Australia. This selection is even priced cheaper, and while I don’t support the connotation of ugly is worth less, this campaign is a step forward to reduce Australia’s food waste.
The Odd Bunch – Woolworths
Imperfect Picks – Harris Farm
I’m Perfect - Coles
Store food correctly
Firstly, the difference between use-by and best before dates needs to be clear. A best before date is reflective of quality, after the given date the food is still safe to eat, however, taste and smell may be slightly different. A use-by date reflects the safety to consume the product. After a given use by date, the food is considered unsafe to consume, regardless of the smell and taste. Labels also have storage instructions on them like “keep refrigerated after opening” or “consume within X days of opening”, it’s important to read and follow these instructions.
When it comes to raw and cooked items, tupperware and temperature are the key ingredients. Some foods are classified as higher risk for growing food poisoning bacteria:
Raw and cooked meats
Eggs and other egg-based products
Cooked rice and pasta
Prepared salads and premade takeaway foods such as pizza, sandwiches or rolls which contain any of the above foods.
These foods require refrigeration, make sure you store then in air tight containers and leave space between each item for the cool air the circulate. The CSIRO website provides details on individual item’s cupboard shelf life and storage time in the fridge: https://www.csiro.au/en/research/health-medical/nutrition/food-handling
Some foods prefer a cupboard or bench top environment, and any open packet of food should be kept sealed as best you can; in an air tight container or a sealed bag. Things like potatoes, onions and garlic are best kept in a cool, dry space such as a cupboard or pantry. Bananas, avocadoes, tomatoes and melons are all best kept on the bench, out of the sun to ripen.
As for those Christmas leftovers sitting in the fridge, consumption within 3-4 days is recommended or store them in the freezer for up to 3 months!
Some other useful resources:
The internet is rife with recipes for leftovers, and more importantly Christmas leftovers! Get creative with the ham! Everything tastes good in a sandwich, there are no rules here. This holiday time might be the perfect time to fine tune your cooking skills or start to learn! And if you’re looking to be horizontal for the next 10 days, you could gift a plate of food to your neighbour who is isolating, or to someone in your building you know lives alone. Tis the season for giving after all.
Book Recommendations for sustainable cooking:
Food swap or compost
This might seem insignificant for some, especially if you live alone, but someone once said “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”. Every little move matters and composting at home can be a great way for the kids to get involved (I’m thinking chores that’ll get them outside!), it’s also super easy and a small good deed you can do from the comfort of your own home. If you don’t have a backyard there are composting options for all situations; indoor, outdoor, community composting, compost drop-off or you can even compost with friends. Everything from veggies, fruit, and eggshells to yard trimmings, and hair and fur can be composted! Food swaps are also becoming popular, where you can connect within your local area to donate and swap excess produce.
Jump online and search your local area for a community garden, food markets or a compost drop off!
Start now! Get your fridge and pantry organised for the new year! Let this be your gentle reminder to think twice about your shopping list, think three times before you throw anything away and think hard about how you can reduce your food waste this holiday period and into 2022.
By Georgia Lamrock, Student Clinical Nutritionist @tasteful_tucker
WHO. (2020, 07 13). As more go hungry and malnutrition persists, achieving Zero Hunger by 2030 in doubt, UN report warns . Retrieved from: https://www.who.int/news/item/13-07-2020-as-more-go-hungry-and-malnutrition-persists-achieving-zero-hunger-by-2030-in-doubt-un-report-warns