food waste for supper? hmmm...


Would you accept an invitation to dine on food waste? I must admit that when the invitation landed in my inbox, there was a tension in my stomach, some butt clenching, and nervy teeth grinding, but I decided this was probably going to be a one off. Besides, I've watched those people on 'I'm a celebrity, get me out of here' eat slugs and other unidentifiable objects, so how bad can it be? 

We were dining on food waste to highlight the global issue of what you 'toss in the trash'. I'd been helping Tristram Stuart from Feeding 5k try and source food waste for the event, and wasn't as successful as I'd hoped to be. On calling Gilani's Nakuru, I was told 'my dear, we don't even supply enough bones for demand'. When I spoke to a rabbit farm near Karatina, they told me most of what they produce goes to China. Art Caffe for some of their delicious bread - 'no, I was told, we can't even bake enough bread for demand'. Meanwhile, unsubstantiated reports tell me that even copper is recycled on Dandora's enormous dumping grounds. I turned to vegetables, and finally had success in this arena: large scale farms that would rather not be named reject many tons of vegetables every year because they don't match the requirements demanded by a greedy export market. 

Is your bean straight enough, green enough, short enough? No? UK and western supermarkets are catering to such an imbecile market that they won't buy our vegetables unless they look like the pictures in their storybooks. What's the result? Kenyan farms sometimes reject as much as 40 tonnes of fresh vegetable produce - perfectly fit for human consumption.

What happens to the rejects? In some cases they end up in landfill, but in many cases in Kenya they are sold on for the local market or for animal feed. Which essentially means they aren't wasted. I've heard of small cattle herds subsisting very comfortably on rejected pak choi, runner beans and strawberries, though sadly it didn't result in strawberry flavoured milk.

In the UK, the average family throws away nearly 1/3 of what they buy. That equates to about 15 million tons. I think it's worth repeating: 15 million tons. And all the food that the west throws away could go towards feeding an extra 200 million people around the world. Given that the Zero Hunger Challenge launched by the UN at Rio+20 last year claims that nearly 1 billion people go to bed hungry every day, that's something of a sobering thought. 

So think a little harder about what you put in your shopping basket. Embrace leftovers and innovative ways to use produce that could be considered as waste. It's not difficult to make a delicious stock or soup from leftovers, and for the next few weeks I'll be talking more about that. But here are some tips to start with:

Frequent and Small – that’s the message from Jonathon Bloom (author of American Wasteland: How American Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food) when it comes to shopping. Plan meals, make a detailed shopping list and stick to it.

Upgrade your refrigerator – and if you can’t, look around for gadgets that keen food fresher for longer.

Store food carefully – and learn the rules. Butter can be frozen for up to six months; milk doesn’t do well being frozen (but there’s always UHT). Leafy greens do well in a damp towel, and grains need to be kept clear of condensation.

Love your Leftovers – when you plan a meal, think about what might come afterwards. If it’s a roast chicken, plan to make stock. From stock, make soup. If you’re having gammon for supper, leftovers would make a tasty ham risotto the next day.

Do some research before you throw things away – there’s usually a website that will give you advice whether it’s leftover cheese rind or slightly off grapes.

Oh and by the way, the meal with UNEP was delicious. Here's what we had:

  • Smoked beetroot carpaccio with crumbled feta, broccoli-slaw, egg ribbons and honey mustard vinaigrette.
  • Thai grilled chicken breast with lemon and chilli confit, sweet garlic, french beans and sugar snaps, with steamed rice and a coconut & lemongrass broth.
  • Mangomisu (tiramisu with a tropical twist)