This week, I took part as in interviewee this week in a very interesting Food Waste research study about household food waste and was shocked to think about some of the statistics.
“Research by the NSW Government shows that the average NSW household throws out $1,036 of food per annum. In looking at food waste around Australia, Do Something calculates that Australians throw out $7.8 billion of food every year. That’s a huge waste of money! “(Food Wise)
Although in our household, we put some scraps in the worm farm, not having chickens anymore means that I dispose of a lot more that I would like to at the moment. It was reassuring to feel that personally, I think we’re doing okish. It made me very keen to hurry up and establish a garden compost area, that’s for sure. Once I stopped to think about what I wasted, even though I make conscious efforts not to waste food, I decided I wasn’t going to leave my efforts at being interviewed.
What I found particularly interesting is beginning to really see the psychology around food waste – I realised that this was the angle coming through the via the interview questions.
I had a moment of realisation that my philosophy around food could do with a bit of tweaking because:
Composting food that was edible into your garden or worm farm, just because it started to spoil before you ate it – is still a gross waste!
If your worms eat food that went off because it languished in the cupboard or fridge, it is a waste of an edible resource that has taken a lot of energy to produce, travel and store for consumption. If you consider that parts of the worlds population suffer from hunger and starvation, you start to realise that managing food waste is not just about composting and recycling. It is more importantly to look at purchasing and storage. Buying perishables in quantities that you actually need to use or learning to store them properly to reduce spoilage, preserve them for future use. Never buying something you won’t use, just because it’s a bargain.
So, my brain has been ticking over since Wednesday, I’ve decided to try and turn this into a project of sorts for our household.
Think about it. If we are on average, spending $1000 a year on wasted foods to line our bins, or feed our worms our fertilise our garden, we definitely should be motivated to make changes to the way we buy and store food. Not just for the environment, and ethical reasons, but for our household budget.
My little plan for little changes
The average weekly shopping bill in Australia is apparently around $200 week; $400 a fortnight.
I think I maybe spend less than average on our food ($140 per week for a family of 4 which includes fruit and veg, fresh and frozen plain seafood, lean meat). I’ve not included nappies or cleaning items etc.. in this.
Changes I have already made
About a year ago, I consciously stopped buying all pre-processed food for the freezer, and ready-made sauces and packets. No pasta sauces (except the odd jar of pesto until my basil takes off) . It makes things slightly trickier, but I have always had a well stocked spice cupboard, as as long as you keep your stocks of basic staples up, making your own sauces is really only a tiny bit more time intensive. The quality of the fresh fruit and veg went up as I stopped purchasing it from a supermarket. (I love going to the local farmers market, but doing a family sized shop on a Saturday morning with two young children is quite difficult). Approximately 50% of our food budget is on fresh veg and fruit (from First Froots which is market fresh and stores easily for a fortnight and longer). This bill will drop over spring and summer as our veggie patch starts providing, particularly this year with the big beds.
I buy less meat that ever before, despite our family being larger now and pad it out with things like lentils. I just don’t feel the need to eat lots of meat. I’ve always been a lover of vegetarian meals and have always used chick peas and other pulses for adding volume to meat meals too. We eat red meat and chicken on average, once a week and fish 2-3 times a week – veggies are consumed daily.
I also changed my concept of fast food by buying a tiered steamer just after my second child was born. Fast food in our house (if I haven’t thought about dinner) is steamed vegetables and fish (15 mins) or alternatively, on the cook top I like to make something like a quick lentil dahl (25 mins) using tinned lentils.
Sometimes we get Chinese takeaway on a Saturday night and this is really our entertaining budget and is a nice treat, so I’m not seeking to change this just yet, however it is of course a waste to buy takeaway, if you then waste edible food because it wasn’t used. Hmm. That’s one to think about, especially as I have all the lovely flavours for Chinese stir fry in the cupboard. Still, it is nice not to have to cook on a Saturday night.
I am home during the day at the moment, but I mostly don’t start cooking until just before 5 as I’m all doing housework or gardening . I’m not great at cooking during the day or even thinking about food beyond the next day.
Change 1: If I planned ahead more, I know I could consume less, so this is my first change to make. Meal planning.
Meal planning. It strikes terror into me. I don’t want to think about food that much! It must be done. If I can properly pre-plan 3 meals a week this will be a significant change for me. By meal planning, I could reduce my dependence on tinned chick peas and lentils as I could use the supply of dry pulses that I have, but hardly ever use because I never think ahead.
Another thing of dread – school lunches! I have a daughter about to start school and need to get creative with lunches as I have so far managed to send no pre-prepared food in the three terms at kindy. I make her kindergarten lunch twice a week which is:
- wrap or sandwich (with cheese, spinach or rocket leaves, tomato, cucumber, sprouts, tiny bit of ham or chicken, hummous and tsatiski) or couscous salad
- snacks: chopped veggie sticks, plain popcorn (popped in the morning using brown bag method), sultanas, pepitas, rice crackers, plain yoghurt
This is the same as our lunches at home, except sometimes I also cook pasta or rice or couscous at lunch as my 16 month old isn’t a sandwich or salad fan yet. It’s going to be harder when it’s 5 days a week instead of 2 and I’m going to have to start making flapjacks or muesli bars. I do buy oat-based ones for home and have avoided sending these in her lunchbox as I know she will eat them first. At the moment, it’s usually only the small tupperware tub of yoghurt that comes homes and is wasted. Everything gets eaten at kindy, or as a “picnic” when at home. Also, part of being at home was an idea that I could help my husband out by making him a lunch to take to work, but so far, this hasn’t happened. Making lunches 5 days a week for school, I’m hopefully that I can make all four of a packed lunch so that we all eat the same thing regardless of where we are. That means no more dilemmas about whether to make a big filling tea, or something light because we’ve all eaten differently at lunchtime.
Change 2: Routinely making some time to make more: muesli and grain bars, biscuits and dips
Also, although removing most of the pre-processed food from our shopping significantly reduced our bill but I could go lower. My approach to shopping is to buy premium quality but less of it. So I would rather use less cheese but have great stuff, rather than a giant block of average cheese. The block I buy is $8 – $9 which is very expensive, but it has less salt than all other cheeses which is very important to me and I just cut it very thin! I would find it hard to compromise on this, particularly my preference for local or farm dairy foods; I like to buy A2 milk; local free-range eggs; free range local ham and premium cloudy juices. I still buy pre-made hoummous and tsatsiki, and biscuits and crackers. I do make sure that I have a tin of spaghetti and baked beans in the cupboard for emergencies, but again, I do have the ingredients to make my own, so I could change this. I know I could spend less on shopping if I properly monitored it and planned more and also make better sized batches, freeze them and not have the ‘use by’ issue, especially with dips. One challenge at the moment is that my oven currently doesn’t work and I’m finding that difficult in terms of it being tricky to bake or make large batches of meals like moussaka to freeze ahead, but I have been using the Weber Q to ‘bake’ using the indirect method. Cooking outside is harder though, but as the weather gets warmer, this will get easier and eventually I’ll sort out the kitchen oven!
Change 3: Learn more about which fresh fruit and vegetables are suitable to freeze and the techniques for freezing them.
As I don’t buy frozen pre-prepared foods, I have a large freezer which currently only has icecream, a few loaves of bread, some sausages, plain fish fillets, frozen berries and some homemade breadcrumbs. I buy so little meat that I only freeze meet for about a week before taking it out to use. I almost wish I could turn it off, but I think a better strategy would be to put it to better to use. I use the freezer to preserve cooked foods, but my knowledge gaps is with using it to preserve any fresh produce (fruit and veg) that I might not use straight away. (e.g this week I have half a bunch of celery left that I just haven’t been able to use and it went off. There are techniques to freezing celery and had I known them, I could have put the unused celery into the freezer when I used the first half at the start of the week – duh!) This will be important knowledge for me if my veg patches turn out as big as I intend!
Change 4: Accountability – I’m going to try and keep track of food and food waste in my household over Spring and Summer and perhaps even keep an honest tally of what is thrown away.
I think this is really the only way to get a good concept of what we do waste. I’d love to work out how much money we save and then do something cool with that money.
I’d love to spend closer to $100 a week, and even less than that in the height of the veggie patch growing season. I don’t know if that’s unrealistic. I’ve found a blog called $120 food challenge by Sandra Reynolds with tips for feeding your family for $120 a week. I’m very excited about this idea.
I also know from the experience that my worst track record for buying convenience food was when I worked full time, before having children. I know that when I’m back in full-time work with 2 school -aged children, all of this idealism may seem like a rosy phase in the dim distant path. It gets so hard when you are not in the house by day. However, this is why I want to change my apparent hate for meal planning now. Now is the time for change. If I can teach myself to plan meals, then it will be less of a chore, and then when I do end up back in full-time work, I’ll have taught myself tips and techniques to keep going.
Small steps, small changes and slowly. Let’s see how we go.
I recently bought the River Cottage Everday cookbook because I love everything about River Cottage and Hugh-Fearnley Whittingstall’s approach to food and lifestyle. I didn’t expect to get a meaningful, philosophical insight into my marriage from it, but that’s precisely what I got. This is one inspirational cookbook!
As I’ve just stopped work to have our second baby, I’m keen to really revert more to my natural inclination towards living frugally. We have two professional incomes but my soul properly sings when I can grow food, reuse things and hunt for second hand stuff. It just makes me happy. It just costs a little more time that can sometimes be snaffled during a working/parenting week.
I was looking through Hugh’s cookbook in a browsy way, wondering if I could make something nice for our 11th anniversary on Saturday. One recipe caught my eye as it said “perfect with home-made chutney”. Richard had just crafted a delicious batch of home-made chutney last week with our plentiful supply of green tomatoes.
The recipe is called Bill’s Rona Oatcakes, and when it dawned on me that this was from the Isle of Rona near Skye, I had to know more. With a quick search online, I found out that the recipe was from Bill Cowie who is the only permanent resident on Rona.
After reading the Isle of Rona website and seeing Bill’s Images of Rona collection, I was besotted with the place. Next time we travel to the UK (which we do every few years) I feel determined that we’ll have a family holiday there. I feel drawn.
Richard and I have spent lots of time in Scotland and have a deep love of the islands, and they form a large part of my mystic/romantic dreams of the ideal place in terms of the natural world. Growing up with Scottish parents probably sowed the seeds of my love for that wild landscape, but now having also spent time in Scotland, that feeling of awe and love is so easily conjured. When I listen to celtic music, memories of all the times we’ve spent in the highlands and islands flicker throgh my mind and fill my heart – so brim full. Sometimes I can so vividly summon up the landscape, I feel like I can go there anytime I need to. My favourite holiday of ours was cycling and camping some of the Hebrides, and I have a soft spot for Sutherland on the mainland, and love the islands I’ve so far visited which are Iona, Mull, Skye and the Orkneys. But not Rona yet….not yet…but I can dream!. .
Rona sounds truly like the idyllic wild holidays that Richard and I love. No shops or roads, one permanent resident and only a few holiday cottages – a place where you can walk in rain and sun showers, catch fish and cook them on an open fire, relax by the fireside in the evening with whisky or heather beer, gaze at the clear night sky, eat kippers for breakfast while watching a rainshower, look for plants and wildlife on land and sea – generally just adore feeling little in nature’s big beautiful vastness.
Suddenly, this oatcake recipe was just not about biscuits for chutney – it had leapt off the page into my dreaming mind – and the oatcakes became symbolic – little oaty tokens that represented a taste of a future ideal – a family holiday on Rona.
It wasn’t long before I was infusing the kitchen with some delicate tunes from my celtic playlist – and the mood was well and truly set. I had decided to make some of these oatcakes for Richard as his wedding anniversary present!
I accept that in terms of gift-giving, some little oaty cakes might sound a bit cheap, and like my frugality has gone a little over the top – but we don’t generally do anniversary presents anyway. Also, being just a week away from giving birth means we’re not really up for going out for a meal anyway, and are planning to have a normal Saturday together with Fionna – and have something with chutney for tea!
Yes, a first attempt at baking oatcakes are probably going to turn out to be imperfect, and experimental as I’ve never made them before – but homemade gifts appeal to my quest to use money for living experiences – like holidays to the Island of Rona! Lets just hope Richard doesn’t mind a few half-baked biscuits instead of something made of stainless steel for 11 years of marriage! (I did after all make him a minature cosmos for our 10th!)
Anyway, cheers to Shug and Brian for putting this recipe into a cookbook and consequently, mixing all the ingredients in my head into a hearty, wild family holiday dream.
Let’s hope Rona oatcakes and chutney turn out to be a marriage made in heaven. But it’s not just about chutney and oats – there’s more to enjoy – these oatcakes go well with cheese and marmalade too! This is how I came full circle with my great insight (bear in mind, I have a crazy pregnancy brain) to think of our marriage as being just like chutney and oatcakes too: we compliment each other, both mature with age, and yet, are equally and individually enhanced by some lovely condiments…er…children.
In my experience of marriage, it’s just as romantic being a mother and father together as it is a husband and wife. Now to me, that sounds like the right sort of ingredients in a recipe for happy times ahead. 😉