Max La Manna is a low-waste chef, award-winning author and host for BBC Earth food shows. In honor of Earth Day, he shared his 7-day no food waste challenge with us.
On a planet of nearly 9 billion people, we are facing food insecurity on every level and more than 820 million people don’t have enough to eat. Food waste is one of the biggest problems facing humanity today – an estimated one-third of all food produced globally is lost or goes to waste.
Food waste doesn’t just mean wasted food, it means wasted money, wasted water, wasted energy, wasted land, wasted transportation, wasted labor, and wasted packaging. Throwing out your food can even contribute to climate change. Did you know one head of lettuce thrown away to a landfill takes 25 years to decompose? Discarded food is often sent to landfill where it is left to rot and produces methane gas. If food waste were a country, it would be the third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases after America and China. (Source: FAO)
An estimated 1/3 of all food produced globally is lost or goes to waste.
I’ve been on a mission to reduce my food waste in the kitchen and have cooked for nearly 4 years without wasting a single scrap of food. Every small action we take can lead to a bigger impact. Look at one ingredient today or every week and find a creative way to utilize the entire ingredient.
Max’s 7 Day No Food Waste Challenge
Day 1: Shop smart
Many people tend to buy more than they need. Shop smart by creating a list and buy only what you need from your list. It’s even better to take stock of the food you already have at home.
*Bonus: Make a point to use up all the food you purchased during the last trip to the market before buying more groceries. Ask yourself, which recipes will I end up cooking this week?
Day 2: Store food properly
Improper storage leads to a massive amount of food waste. Many people are unsure how to store fruits and vegetables, which can lead to premature ripening and, eventually, rotten produce.
For instance, potatoes, tomatoes, garlic, cucumbers, and onions should never be refrigerated. These items should be kept at room temperature or stored in a cool and dark space. The stems of leafy greens and herbs can be submerged in water. Store bread in your freezer if you think you won’t finish it in time.
*Bonus: Do your part by choosing slightly imperfect produce at the grocery store, or better yet, directly from the farmer.
Day 3: Save leftovers (and actually eat them too)
Leftovers aren’t just for the holidays. If you happen to cook a lot and you regularly have leftovers, designate a day to use up any that have accumulated in the fridge. It’s a great way to avoid throwing away food. Sometimes leftovers are even better the second or third time around.
What’s more, it saves you time and money.
Day 4: Make friends with your freezer
Freezing food is one of the easiest ways to preserve it, and the types of food that take well to freezing are endless.
For example, greens that are a bit too soft to be used in your favorite salad can be put in freezer-safe bags or containers and used at a later date in smoothies, soups, stews, and other recipes.
An excess of herbs can be combined with olive oil and chopped garlic, then frozen in ice cube trays for a handy and delicious addition to sautés and other dishes – this is a gem!
You can freeze leftovers from meals, excess produce from your favorite farm stand, bread or breadcrumbs, and bulk meals like soups and chilis. It’s a great way to ensure you always have a healthy, home-cooked meal available.
Tip: Give your freezer a name – if you have children at home, let them decide. My freezer’s name is Felix.
Day 5: Pack your lunch
Although going out to a socially distanced lunch with coworkers or grabbing a meal from your favorite restaurant may be more enjoyable than ever, it is also costly and can contribute to a lot of food waste you wouldn’t imagine.
A helpful way to save money while reducing your carbon footprint is to bring your lunch to work with you.
If you’re strapped for time in the morning, try freezing your leftovers in portion-sized containers. That way, you’ll have premade, hearty lunches ready to go each morning.
Day 6: Make a homemade stock
Whipping up a homemade stock is an easy way to reduce food waste.
Each week, I keep a container next to my chopping board and toss any leftover bits or scraps that I don’t end up cooking. Eventually, that container will be full of amazing scraps that can be used to make a delicious stock. In a saucepan add the likes of garlic and onions peelings, hearty kale stems, the bottom woody part of the asparagus, and any other leftover veg bits. Next, add water, peppercorns, salt, dried seasonings such as dried thyme or rosemary and let it simmer into an aromatic vegetable broth for a few minutes. Store in a sealed jar or container.
Day 7: Compost if you can
Composting food is a beneficial way to reuse food scraps, turning food waste into energy for soil and plant health.
While not everyone has room for an outdoor composting system, there’s a wide range of countertop composting systems that make this practice easy and accessible for everyone, even those with limited space.
An outdoor composter may work well for someone with a large garden, while a countertop composter is best for city dwellers with houseplants or small herb gardens. If you have the space and are in need of a new hobby, here’s your sign!
Bonus: Donate food from your pantry to a local charity in need. There are people who are hungry and struggling to find a meal every day and those people are in our very own communities.
The bottom line is that we all can reduce our food waste by 10-50% and there are endless ways to do so. By thinking more about the food your household throws away every day, you can help create positive change to conserve some of the Earth’s most valuable resources.
Even minimal changes to the way you shop, cook and consume food will help reduce your impact on the environment. It doesn’t have to be difficult. Small changes, big impact.
With a small amount of effort, you can cut your food waste dramatically, save money and time, and help take some pressure off Mother Nature.
Article by Max La Manna.
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You could also find this article on vegan meal prep helpful.