The Food Waste Chronicles.

This week long blog was kept during European Waste Reduction Week (November 19-26, 2011).  It includes seven posts with recipes, tips on using up leftovers and general advice on how to get creative in your kitchen in an effort to throw less food away. 

 The Beginning –  Waste not. Want not.  

It all began when I was 6 years old.  Picture it.  I am sitting around the dinner table with my mother and father.  My sister, a notoriously fussy eater, is being subjected, yet again, to the kitchen timer since she has refused to finish the food on her plate for the third night in a row.  If the timer buzzes before she has eaten 2 of the 4 chicken tenders on her plate, she will be banished to her room, which is what I am hoping for as I scowl at her from across the table with my empty plate.  My mother has already worked her way through the soft sell.  She’s made a point of walking over to the hot apple crisp cooling on the counter so she can bend over and smell it, telling us all how much she loves dessert, how gooey and sticky and yummy it will taste, and how she’s even remembered to buy vanilla ice cream.  When my sister does not jump at the bait she moves into phase two which involves bargaining, discussing the number of acceptable mouthfuls, shifting food into piles.  By the time my father takes over we are on to much bigger matters… starving children in Africa, the sin of waste, why the world might end in our tiny lit kitchen if my sister does not finish her mashed potatoes and green beans. 

Perhaps it is all those clean plates of my childhood which have prepared me for this moment because today is the first day of European Waste Reduction Week and I have been charged with the task of showing people how to waste less food.  Britons throw away around 7.2 million tonnes of food in a year.  Wasting food costs the average family with children around £680 a year.  Could you find a use for £50 extra a month?

Having watched my parents failed attempts to get my sister to eat, I am well aware that bribery and soap box railing are not the best ways to get the message across.

I would like this week to be about good old fashioned inspiration, the sort of motivation that comes from a good place instead of a sense of loss.  Sure, I could point out the insane irony that Somalis are walking miles in search of a handful of rice while we are filling bin after bin with good wholesome food but the point is that might not be enough for most people to make a change.  To change you need some tools and you need a desire to use them.

So that’s where I come in.  For the next week I will be blogging about my experience as a food waste warrior.  I’d like this week to be about inspiration, about making small rewarding changes to your lifestyle, getting creative in the kitchen, honouring the abundance in our lives by not carelessly throwing it away.  On the blog this week you will find recipes, tips, facts and anecdotes, all aimed at getting you to make wasting food a thing of the past.  This might involve getting in touch with your fridge, telling her what she means to you, and having a good look at what’s at the very back.  In fact, it will involve paying attention to something that is easier to ignore.   

I will be doing two cooking demonstrations this week, one at the Twickenham Farmer’s Market (Saturday, Nov 19th, 9-11) and one at the Richmond Farmer’s Market (Saturday, Nov 26th, 11-1).  If you want to see how leftovers can be transformed into art, then stop by and say hello. 

I promise not to resort to the kitchen timer if you promise to keep an open mind!  Changing the world is a momentous task but saving a good loaf of bread from the bin only takes one person.

Befriending Your Fridge.

One of my friends has a jar of chutney in the back of his fridge that is at least 8 years old.  The label on the jar disappeared long ago so there is no real way of knowing what is inside, no ingredient list, no best before date, just a lumpy brown mush that we’ve named Fred since things that stick around ought to be named and cared for.

If only all our fridge friends were looked after and ‘known’ as well as Fred the mystery chutney.  Most of us, sadly, don’t even want to look at the bottom of the vegetable drawer where stray chillies have escaped from the bag and shrivelled in a corner, and fresh herbs have formed a greenish brown goo.  This is how we end up wasting so much.  The food in our fridge is not on our radar.  We are aware of a few things like milk and cheese and that last sliver of Victoria sponge that we’d like to eat before anyone else gets their mitts on it but the leftover vegetables from the recipe you did four days ago are a distant memory.

It would be interesting one Sunday afternoon to tot up the cost of all those things that you are removing with a wrinkled nose.  The spinach leaves that have gone soupy, the half lemons that are green, the broccoli that is yellow, the brown leeks… how much does all that cost?  Well, it certainly costs the council a packet to tote it away.  It costs the environment since a lot of energy has been used to grow and transport this food to the supermarket and a little bit more to get it to your house or flat.  But, most importantly, from a consumer perspective in hard economic times, it has cost you a lot of money.

I think we’re all agreed that we don’t WANT to waste so much.  The question becomes HOW to stop it since we lead busy lives and if you’ve spent the last hour trying to get your four year old to go to sleep, do you really want to take five minutes to get intimate with your fridge?

So here’s one of my solutions to the leftover issue.  It isn’t perfect by any means but it’s a start.  I’ve just paused for a moment to look into my fridge.  I timed myself and I have used a total of 2 ½ minutes.  During that time, I have discovered a quarter of a red cabbage, two carrots, the middle of a celery looking more pale yellow than green, two spring onions that look as if they will need the first paper layer stripped away, a lemon, a small container of leftover roast potatoes, a ½ tub of Moroccan hummus, a baggie of cooked broccoli, and a block of cheddar about the size of a bar of soap.

What does all this make?  Surely, in a week’s time, I will be throwing most of this into the bin.

Actually, what I have in my fridge is a decadent lunch.  It’s Sunday afternoon, so I pick out one of my favourite DVD’s and pop it into the player.  Sitting on my rocking chair with a cutting board on my lap, I begin with the carrots.  I grate them as the credits are playing. 

Twenty minutes into the film, everything has gone into a bowl.  I’ve chopped the leftover broccoli and the spring onions, I’ve grated some of the cheddar and thrown in the roast potatoes.  I’ve even managed to slice in half of the red cabbage.  In front of me is a big bowl of STUFF.

Now, I take my leftover hummus and combine it with a little lemon juice or if I am feeling really lazy, just some water and a drizzle of olive oil.  I pour my hummus dressing over all those vegetables and stir it until everything is coated.  If  I am inspired by what I’ve just created, I may even hunt in the back of the fridge for an olive or two or something else pickled that will add to the flavour.  Maybe I’ll break up the last few walnuts from the bag that’s in the cupboard.

Now, I can eat this salad just as it is, or I can take a Mexican tortilla and package my leftover salad into a wrap which will happily accompany me to work tomorrow.  When everyone is getting out their slices of bread with one tired piece of ham, I will be eating a decadent hummus salad with cheese and potatoes and fresh carrot.  I will have the smug look of someone who has used their leftovers, eaten something healthy, and avoided the astronomical prices of a lunch time splurge. Most importantly, I will be enjoying every mouthful.

This is something pretty easy to incorporate into your routine.  Empty your fridge bits into a bowl… leftover roast, pasta, rice, lentils, cous cous, raw veg, cooked veg… Then add some yummy bits: cheese, olives, toasted nuts or seeds, chopped up herbs from the bag you don’t know how to finish, and then add a dressing of your choice.  Here are a few Magic Salad Dressings that will get you started, but a dressing could be as easy as a dollop of mayonnaise and a spoonful of pesto.  Mix. Done.

What it comes down to is taking one moment to see what is in your fridge, and then taking five or ten minutes to transform the food you might have thrown away into something tasty and satisfying.   A well stocked store cupboard helps.  And you might want to experiment with trying to enjoy the whole process instead of thinking of it as something tedious that you’ve been forced to do.  As a child I used to mix up all the liquids in the fridge and feed them to my sister.  Back then I wanted to be a chemist.  Now, I’m a cook.  I like to think I employ the same sense of play as I did when I was seven.

And if you aren’t convinced by leftover salads… come on out to the Richmond Farmers Market this Saturday (November 26th) between 11 and 1 and I will make a believer out of you.  We’ll be giving out loads of tasters and free advice on eating really well, but wasting less.

Supermarket Sense


It is common knowledge that you shouldn’t go to the supermarket when you are hungry.  My mother says it is also against the rules to send your husband unless you aren’t fussed if he comes home with the items on some other shopper’s list, having lost the one you gave him.  These days, I’d say it’s a good idea to go with special goggles so you aren’t lured by all the two for ones and three for twos and buy one get ones, because this is where waste enters your life unannounced.

You are standing in the aisle with your shopping trolley pondering broccoli.  This week it is on a three for two with leeks and potatoes and asparagus. You aren’t really a fan of broccoli or asparagus but you’ve been meaning to eat more vegetables and you are feeling virtuous.  So you put two broccolis in the cart and a sack of potatoes which you know you’ll eat.

And so it continues… down the bread aisle where you buy two loaves of bread.  Later you are wooed by the deal on salmon.  There are four portions in the pack even though you only need two but you think to yourself, I’ve been meaning to have Doug and Penelope over to see the new loft.  You’ll give them a call.  You can all have salmon on Friday.

A week later, you have two yellow heads of broccoli that you throw away still in their packaging.  You’ve eaten three quarters of one loaf of bread and the other one has a few white spots, threatening to escalate into full throttle mould.  You managed to eat two portions of salmon on Thursday but your husband put it back in the fridge without clingfilm and now it’s looking dry and slightly scary and you don’t want to risk losing another day of work just to see if it’s ok.

All of us can do so much better with just a small bit of effort.  Firstly, go to the supermarket with a list and go when you aren’t hungry.  Even if you aren’t even slightly peckish, think about the things you put in the trolley.  Actually, we need to talk about the list itself.  The things you put on it should be part of a grand plan.  Yes, you the appointed supermarket shopper for the family must think ahead.  Do it in your living room, not in the supermarket itself where you will be confused by the lights and the flashy displays and the cheese aisle.  Sit down at your table and write: Monday.  Then think about what is happening on Monday.  Do you have time to cook?  Will it be a pasta day? A meat and two veg?  A casserole in the slow cooker?  What do you need?  What do you still have in your fridge that needs using up?  The problem is these sorts of questions seem tedious.  Isn’t going to the supermarket hard enough.

The truth is planning will save you loads of time and money.  If you plan your week once, you don’t have that terrible feeling that creeps over you on the way home from work, when you will have to jump to the kitchen challenge once again even though you would rather just curl up on sofa and read a book.  If you plan, you can relax a little.  Tonight you know what you’re having: leftover Bolognese sauce with mashed potatoes and cheese, steamed green beans, not exactly haute cuisine but at least you know.

And once you’ve planned and made a list, then you might want to invest in some will power, because most of the two for ones that are saving you money are being thrown directly in the bin.  If you DO decide to buy two loaves of bread, take that extra second when you arrive home to put one in the freezer.  Put extra cuts of meat in sandwich bags with labels and add them to the freezer.  Next week when it’s time to plan a meal, remember what you put in there.  Wouldn’t it be nice to buy less this week, to just use what you need?  There are loads of things in your cupboards and your freezer just waiting to be made into a meal.

If we are going to put an end to all this waste, we’re going to have to stop meandering through the aisles of our supermarkets like hypnotised monkeys.  You don’t have to have a will of iron like my mother who would not allow extra items in her trolley no matter how big the tantrum, but you might like to experiment with a little common sense.  It might just pay off.

The Humble Loaf

Every year I choose one new terrifying activity that intrigues me and I put my heart into learning everything I can about it.  Some might call this madness.  I call it relieving boredom.  So, 2011 was a year of bread making.  Sadly, I’ve become one of those people that accosts people in the supermarket, pointing out all the rubbish that goes into sliced sandwich bread, waving my hands around as I demonstrate how easy and rewarding it is to make your own loaf.  I love bread, especially the good stuff, and was quite shocked when I took on this project to learn that we throw away 7 million slices of bread… EVERY DAY!

Yesterday, I was doing a demonstration at the Civic Centre in Twickenham and was speaking to a woman who told me proudly that she ate all of her leftovers so didn’t really have any need of new recipes.  When I mentioned bread, she shrugged her shoulders.  Yes, she said,  I waste bread all the time.  It seems everyone has one area that is worth improving… so this blog is for all those people out there with green loaves.

I know I’m not going to convince all of you to make your own bread but once you realise how many things you can do with leftover bread, crumbs in particular – their ability, for example, to transform ordinary dishes into moreish winter warmers –  then you might think twice about letting your bread go off in a basket on top of the fridge.  Below is an explanation of how to make breadcrumbs as well as a list of things to do with breadcrumbs.  I’ve also added a few suggestions for what to do with whole slices of stale bread.  Skip ahead to what you need!

How to make breadcrumbs:

Let’s begin with basics…  The best breadcrumbs are made of stale bread.  If you try to make crumbs from fresh, doughy bread, you get, well, dough balls.  So, you want to wait until your bread is at least 3 days old.  Leftover baguettes and bread rolls are perfect for breadcrumbs, and even packet bread can be used though some of them have a lot of chemicals added to keep them soft and they tend to go mouldy before they go hard and stale.  I put breadcrumbs into two categories… fresh and dry. 

Fresh Breadcrumbs:

Fresh breadcrumbs are made by removing the crusts from your stale bread and putting the loaf in chunks into a food processor.  The resulting breadcrumbs will be larger and moister.  They are the sort of breadcrumbs that are fabulous for topping gratins, adding to meatballs, and making Hugh’s eggy bready pudding (more on that later!)  WARNING: These breadcrumbs still contain moisture so they can still go mouldy. If you don’t have an immediate use for them, put them in a bag and shove them in the freezer.  (The crusts can be used for dry breadcrumbs – see below) 

Dry Breadcrumbs:

Dry breadcrumb, on the other hand, are made from bread that has completely hardened and gone stale.  Once upon a time when people made their own bread, you could let the end of a loaf air dry before it went mouldy and then grate it into dry bread crumbs.  These days you often need to  speed up the process by putting your bread in a low oven (around 50-100C) and letting it dry out.  This process can take anywhere between 20 minutes to an hour, depending on how moist your bread is.  You know it is ready to be made into crumbs when the bits of bread feels crisp.  After letting it cool, these chunks of bread can also be put in a blender or a food processor.  They will make fine, powder-like crumbs, that are fantastic for coating meat, fish and vegetables.  These crumbs should be relatively moisture free and can be stored in an airtight container in the cupboard.

Seasoned Bread Crumbs.

Now, before I give you a few recipe ideas we need to talk briefly about pimping up your breadcrumbs.  That’s a technical term of course which means making them taste a bit sexier.  If I am going to go to the trouble of drying out my bread and cutting it into chunks and blending it, I might as well throw a few things into the blender that will make those crumbs flavourful.  It all depends on how you are likely to use them.  I tend to do a lot of Italian things with my crumbs so I often squeeze in a clove of garlic, a handful of whatever fresh herbs I happen to have on hand, a pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper.  If I have it, I will also grate in a tablespoon of Parmesan.  In seconds, I have crumbs that I could eat with a spoon and be happy…  You can also add dried herbs, chilli flakes, spices like curry powder or smoked paprika.  Breadcrumbs will happily take on whatever flavours you like.  The nice thing is once you’ve done this, those crumbs are ready for you any time you  need them, and you will find yourself relying on them to spice up all sorts of dishes…

So what can you do with breadcrumbs?

Coat things.

If you have breadcrumbs in your cupboard or freezer and a few eggs, you can turn the ingredients in your fridge into savoury treats.  Fish can be dipped in flour, egg, and breadcrumbs as can chicken and pork.  This isn’t anything new…  But have you ever thought of using up your leftover mashed potatoes to make fish cakes?  Combine your potatoes with some smoked mackerel or leftover salmon and add some chopped parsley or chives, leftover cabbage or leeks.  Bind it with an egg and some salt and pepper.  Now form that mixture into patties and coat them in your breadcrumbs. Fry the cakes  in a little vegetable oil until golden on both sides.  Fabulous!  Or you could make vegetarian cakes with mashed potato and any other vegetable leftovers like green beans or broccoli.  Grate in some cheddar cheese, mix and fry in breadcrumbs as above.  Also delicious. 

Top Casseroles and Gratins.

The simple addition of breadcrumbs to the top of a casserole can take it from bog standard to gourmet.  Think of a crumble without the crumble… doesn’t seem worth bothering.  Now, cook up some potatoes, pumpkin, parsnips, or carrots with some onions and celery and add in some spinach or cabbage.  When the veg has cooked, add in some cream and stock and some cheddar cheese or gruyere.  Combine some fresh bread crumbs with a few tablespoons of olive oil, add some seeds or nuts if you like and scatter over the top.  Bake until bubbly.  You don’t have to follow a recipe.  All you need is a gooey cooked bottom layer and a topping of crumbs and fat.  Here is a recipe for a gratin to get you started: Potato Onion and Cheddar Gratin

Add breadcrumbs to roasted and boiled vegetables.

This is the easiest way to make vegetables more exciting.  When your green beans are finished steaming throw them into a frying pan with some seasoned breadcrumbs and a tablespoon of butter.  Fry them for a minute until the crumbs go crispy and serve.  This can be done with sprouts, roasted potatoes, brussel sprouts, etc.  Try adding in some fresh herbs for wow factor.

Add stale bread/crumbs to meatballs.

My mother is Italian and was quite alarmed when I started giving out her meatball recipe to my students six  years ago.  She’s gotten over the shock and is pleased that she’s now world famous.  The secret to her moist meatballs is stale wet bread.  She takes a whole piece and runs it under the tap, squeezes it out in her hand and then shreds it into the meat.  If you don’t feel like making crumbs, why not freeze leftover bread and then use it like this.  Here is her recipe: Spaghetti and Meatballs.  Thanks Mom!

Savoury Bread Puddings.

We’re working our way to dessert but we’re not quite there.  This is an easy way to use up old bread for breakfast.  There are a hundred and one different ways to do this.  Start by tearing up your old bread into a casserole dish (bite size pieces are best).  Now throw in some fried or roasted pepper and onion or leftover broccoli, potatoes, parsnips, whatever.  Crack a few eggs into a separate bowl.  You can add in some cream if you have it but if you don’t leave it out.  Chop up some fresh herbs and grate in some cheese (feta, ricotta, mozzarella, cheddar or gruyere).  Now pour this mixture over your bread and vegetables and bake it until it is set, between 20 and 30 minutes.  This will stun your family.

 French Toast or Eggy Bread

If it is the weekend and you have more time for breakfast this is a great way of using up old bread.  Beat a few eggs and add a splash of milk.  Add a tablespoon of sugar or honey and a sprinkle of ground cinnamon or nutmeg (cardamom if you are feeling exotic.)  Now soak slices of bread in this mixture on both sides for about a minute or two.  Heat a frying pan with a bit of butter and fry it on both sides.  Serve with maple syrup or fruit compote or jam.  Yum!

Bread Puddings

Britons have been making bread and butter pudding for centuries.  It will surprise you to know that every country has some fantastic version of bread pudding.  In New Orleans they make bread pudding with Bourbon and toasted pecans.  I saw Nigel Slater make a Thai version the other night using coconut milk… So if you want to use up bread and spend a little time being decadent, the internet is your oyster.  Try out a new recipe.  And if you have fresh breadcrumbs that you haven’t seasoned with herbs or salt and pepper than you might want to google Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s Eggy Bready Pudding which is a simple dessert that involves store cupboard ingredients and takes no time at all to throw in the oven.

Well, I hope that the next time you look over at your bread, you will imagine the possibilities.  Why are we throwing something so delicious in the bin?  God bless the bread crumb.

Friday Soup

At the weekend a friend of mine told me her mother had cracked the food waste problem years ago when she was a kid.  At the end of the week when the family gathered round the table with the weight of a week’s worries just beginning to lift, they were served a heaping bowl of Friday soup.  What was in it? Who knew?  Perhaps a foodie would be able to tease out the subtle flavours.  Certainly the roasted chicken carcass had been put to good use, as had all the leftovers in the fridge, and some unused vegetables at the bottom of the drawer.  You’ll never eat this again, she told her kids, and she was right.  Every Friday  was a once in a lifetime experience.

It’s amazing what I discover in my kitchen when I allow myself to throw caution to the wind.  Today, for example I had a look at the fresh coriander which I have been using in cooking demos since Saturday.  It was still looking green but a leaf or two had taken on a yellow hue and I feared it wasn’t long before some of the leaves were going to go slimy and black. 

So right there and then I decided to make a pesto even though coriander isn’t my usual herb of choice.  Normally I’d use fresh basil and pine nuts, neither of which are currently in my flat.   I have a stick blender that I swear by so I bunged all the coriander leaves into the plastic measuring container.  I turned around to throw away the stalks in the food waste bin and something made me stop.  Perhaps it was the result of a week spent thinking about waste.  What the hell, I thought, I’ll chop up the stalks as well and throw them in.  I mashed a clove of garlic with some sea salt and scraped it into the container, glugged some olive oil over the top, and threw in a few walnuts.  The garlic made me think of hummus which made me remember the bag of lemon halves in the fridge leftover from one of my cooking classes at Waldegrave.  I squeezed them in too. 

And then I blended it all up. 

Dear reader,  would I be tooting my own horn to say that what I produced was absolute magic.  I want to smother everything I eat in this sauce, astonishing since I could just as easily have let the coriander go off.  Now I have something to brush onto fish or mix with mayonnaise in a salad.  I have a great condiment for curry and rice, a sandwich spread, and something to add to hummus when it needs a good lift.  I’ve put it in the freezer until I’m ready to decide what food needs a pesto blessing.

These sorts of successes in the kitchen are the result of letting ourselves play, and the food isn’t the only prize, it’s the process of creating that we learn to love as well.  Maybe we all need a special day like my friend’s mother, a day that you haven’t been asked to cook under duress.  Friday soup was made, not surprisingly, on a day that just screams put your slippers on and relax because tomorrow you can sleep in.  When do you have space to play in the kitchen, a day to create something memorable while you are cleaning out your fridge?

And while we are creating a day, perhaps it wouldn’t be bad to have a few dishes to help us along the way.  Soup isn’t the only thing that is born of an untidy fridge.  One of my personal favourites is Thai Red Curry with Vegetables.  It is one of the quickest meals to throw together and if you have leftovers, it is an absolute pleasure as you cut out most of the steps.  This particular curry is vegetarian but feel free to throw in meat as well.  Like all good recipes, it relies on good ingredients so if you have the time, swing by Paya Thai Asian Supermarket, just off the roundabout near Richmond station on the road heading to Kew.  They sell a fantastic red curry paste called Namjai and you can pick up a small bag of frozen kaffir lime leaves for 50p.  The curry paste is potent stuff so you only need 2-3 teaspoons for a pretty flavourful curry.  If you are using the supermarket variety you may have to use a whole jar.   The rest of the ingredients in the curry are up to you.  I’ve used green beans, potatoes, red peppers and onions but maybe you have some leftover boiled parsnips that are just crying out to be drowned in coconut milk… give it a whirl.

And in the spirit of sharing I will offer you the chilli recipe I have been honing since my birth: Chilli of the Gods  It had to be altered slightly when I became a vegetarian but I don’t think it suffered very much in the transition.  This recipe is strong enough to take a whole lot of experimenting.  Maybe initially you could keep in the secret ingredients which are smoked paprika, onions and red peppers but after you’ve got the knack you’ll be telling me your chilli is better, asking me if I ever considered the virtues of sundried tomatoes. 

Plan a Friday of anything goes into your week!

Dare to Share.

I do the children’s story hour at Langton’s Bookshop every Friday.  Sitting in a wicker chair by a stand of fairytale puppets, I am surrounded by a chatty group of three and four year olds who always seem to add a bit of perspective to my life.  By coming to story hour these kids are not only getting invited into the world of books, they are also learning how to sit still and pay attention. Kids this age are learning all sorts of social skills.  Last week I noticed one of the boys was breaking off pieces of his granola bar and passing it to the boy sitting next to him.  It got me thinking about what I learned when I was four.  Now Andrea, said my parents and relatives and teachers, you must learn how to share.

Sometimes no matter how hard we try to buy the right amount of food or prepare enough dinner so everyone will have just enough, we still end up buying or making too much.  We are human after all, and I suspect that behind this excess buying there is really a desire to make sure everyone has had their needs met, to please and pamper our families and friends.  But why stop there?  Why waste food when you could share it?  I’ll show you what I mean…

Last night I went into a bit of a panic.  I have been charged with inspiring people to waste less food and yet at the moment my fridge has quite a few cooking demo leftovers that need to be used up before the Saturday demo at the Richmond Farmer’s market.  So, this morning I got up and put them all in a bowl.  I dumped in the shredded red cabbage, the shredded white cabbage, the shredded carrots, and a few tablespoons of toasted sesame seeds.  I chopped up the bunch of spring onions whose green tops are starting to wilt.  I have  hummus in the fridge which I made on Saturday and I don’t like to keep it for more than a week.  Luckily my Israeli father-in-law, who makes the tastiest salads whenever we come to dinner has taught me a fabulous trick.  You take the hummus and add a little water and olive oil.  I like to add in some lemon juice, and lemon zest and tahini as well but watering down the hummus is all that really needs to be done.  Now this dressing can be added to the vegetables making a gorgeous salad.

Knowing that my husband and I could not consume all of this salad ourselves, I loaded my middle eastern style coleslaw into a Tupperware and sent it into my husband’s work where I have no doubt that it will be devoured. 

Sharing is something that we don’t usually think about in this crusade to waste less.  Perhaps it is because we’ve become a bit sealed off in London.  We forget that food is a gift that can bring communities and people together.  During the Great British Bake Off this summer, I was smitten by cake.  I couldn’t stay out of my kitchen.  One of my friends joked that the oven was always on in my flat.  He wasn’t far from the truth.  The problem was my husband and I could only eat so much cake.  I live in a Victorian conversion with seven flats so one night I took to the stairs and knocked on doors, giving out Tiramisu cupcakes.  I had 24 that needed to find a better home.  My neighbours, who I see once every couple of weeks, were surprised to hear my knock.  They sniffed at the cupcakes with suspicion as if I might be one of those odd American serial killers come to poison them with kindness.  The next day, however, empty plates were returned to me with big smiles. 

So the next time you buy a Victoria sponge from Marks and Spencers that you aren’t sure you can finish, or you have half of a vegetable lasagne that you know is destined for the bin, try bringing it into work or offering it to the elderly couple that live next door and are watching their pennies.  You might just spread a little kindness and get rid of waste at the same time.

Sleigh Bells Ring: Are you Listening?

Despite the mild weather Christmas is here again.  I may be walking my dog without a coat and harvesting those last few peppers in my greenhouse, but there’s no denying the jolly season is back.  The Christmas lights are on in Teddington, Twickenham and Hampton Hill.  I can’t even complain that all of this is happening too early because my own beloved American Thanksgiving has also past, the date which makes cheesy music and little plastic Santas officially allowable. 

There is nothing that brings out excess like Christmas.  We buy too many presents, drink too much mulled wine, fight too much with our relatives, and gobble festive food like we’re eating for England.  It’s the time of year that we’re meant to be joyful.  The excess, we hope, is a sign that our lives are full.  After all, how else will we get through grim January and February unless we’ve fattened ourselves with indulgence.

The economic situation, however, has cast a bit of a grey cloud over this year’s yuletide celebrations.  Every Tom, Dick and Harry seems to be preaching doom and gloom: lost jobs, no growth, shops closing, high streets shutting down, the end of society as we know it…  And it is for this reason that I stay away from the news (to the extent that I can).   The negativity over time starts to feel like a disease in and of itself, and my life is too important for me to buy into the notion that nothing I do matters. 

This week I’ve been imploring you to cook with your leftovers, get creative in the kitchen,  share your food, get intimate with your fridge,  plan your dinners, and stop letting the supermarkets dictate what you buy. 

But why?  Does it really matter?

One man I spoke to about how much food householders are wasting told me restaurants waste more.  This seems to be a common copout.  Point the finger somewhere else.  Make it somebody else’s problem.  The truth is there are already enough things in the universe that we can’t change.  This isn’t one of them.  It is totally within our power to waste less food, to plan better, to eat better, to live better. 

Apathy is a giving up and a giving in to the things in life that seem too big to comprehend, too large to combat.  

Change begins with you. 

So, while you’re shopping for your Christmas turkey with all the trimmings and stocking your cupboard for the influx of relatives, keep an eye out for what you can do differently this year.  How much meat do you really need?  How many sprouts make up one portion? Use your turkey carcass for soup on Boxing Day.  Make a savoury bread pudding with your leftover bread. 

And perhaps, if you are feeling really inspired, you might make an official resolution on January 1st to appreciate the plenty in your life by wasting less of what you already have. 

Good Luck!


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