The theme for this year's World Environment Day is "Think. Eat. Save.", and it has the objective of encouraging us to rethink the environmental impact of our food choices.
To help raise awareness on the topic of food wastage and the carbon footprint of different food items, I am reposting 2 relevant articles I wrote for Green Living back in 2008 and 2010. I hope you will enjoy reading them as much as I had enjoyed writing them.
May our daily actions reflect our environmental values and political convictions. May we be more aware and mindful of the choices we make. May we realise the power we have as individuals to tackle environmental challenges. May we do our best to protect and cherish our Planet, the only home we have.
REDUCING FOOD WASTAGE
Food is precious, yet the irony is that a study found that 1/3 of food purchased in the UK ends up in the trash.
Although no similar study has been conducted in Malaysia, one only needs to look at the amount of uneaten food left behind in restaurants to realize that Malaysians too waste food prodigiously.
Wasted food ends up in landfill sites. When the food matter breaks down, it releases massive amounts of greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide. At the same time, Malaysia is rapidly running out of landfill space.
Taking steps to reduce food wastage is not only good for housekeeping purposes; it also helps the environment in a big way. If the country needed to produce or import 15% less foodstuff, for instance, there will be a corresponding reduction in pollution levels, the destruction and over-harvesting of our natural resources, transport costs and packaging.
These are ways in which you can take action to reduce food wastage when eating out, entertaining at home or attending an event where food will be served:
1. Bring home your uneaten portions after a meal out. Try not to use Styrofoam. Bring your own reusable container or ask for waxed paper, reusable plastic containers or paper bags to take away your food in. Then jot down the date the meal was prepared on the packaging, or leave a note for yourself on the refrigerator door. Once you keep track of when your food was prepared or purchased, it will be easier for you to remember to eat it before it goes bad.
2. Banquets are the bane of modern society. If you or someone you know is having a wedding function, please try not to have an 8-course dinner. Most guests will skip 'stages' and consequently, much of the food will be thrown away. Instead, opt for a light buffet. Food left on serving trays can be packed up and taken home by guests or waiters, or even given to the less privileged. If the food served is vegetarian, you can contact Food Not Bombs KL through their blog at http://fnbkl.blogspot.com/ to arrange for the food to be distributed to the less fortunate.
3. A traditional mindset is not always good. The Chinese often take a clean plate as an indication of a poor hostess. If you are the host or hostess, do not encourage food wastage and do not insist that your guests have more food when they refuse. If you are the guest, explain to the hostess that although you enjoy her food very much, you really cannot have any more and you do not wish to waste food.
4. When organizing a party, offer fewer choices so that whatever is served is more likely to be finished. Don't, for instance, serve cupcakes and Swiss roll when there is a birthday cake. A good idea is to have a themed party, such as a 'pizza party' or a 'tapas party'. This limits the variety of food you have to purchase or prepare, and can be a novel and interesting experience for your guests without making you seem like a stingy host. 4 – 5 varieties of food, and 1 choice of beverage, are adequate.
5. When eating out, order the smallest portion and finish it before you order something else. Too many people order and pay for 'side dishes' and 'appetizers' that are later not finished. Whenever possible, share with a friend or family member. Do not let children order meals that you know they are unable to finish.
6. It is easy to get persuaded into ordering a set meal or a 'value meal' when eating out. Unless sharing with a friend or very certain that you can polish off a set meal on your own, always order ala carte. Never shop for food when you are hungry, because you will then be tempted to buy the largest set in the mistaken belief that you need it and will be able to finish it.
7. When organizing a party or potluck, have a ready supply of reusable containers, waxed paper or Eco Pak for guests to bring the excess food home. This prevents you from overstocking your refrigerator with several days' worth of leftover food that will eventually be thrown out.
8. High teas and weekend buffets are popular among the well-to-do. However, please consider the environment before overloading your plate and leaving uneaten portions to be thrown out. Remind yourself that food is precious and that there are many starving people in the world. You may have paid for the food, but Mother Nature pays the ultimate price for your wastage.
Practical steps to reduce food wastage at home:
1. Check what you already have in your fridge and cupboards before going shopping. So for instance, if you already have some fresh vegetables, then use these up first before buying any more vegetables.
2. Ignore the advertising carried out by supermarkets to tempt us all to buy more and buy in bulk. Remember that the 30% of food you waste is helping them make huge profits at your expense.
3. If you carry out a weekly shopping trip, then plan your food menu for the week and only buy accordingly. Stick to the menu and plan it well. For instance, carrots and pumpkin last longer than greens and bean sprouts, so use your greens up earlier in the week.
4. Resist any special offers and don't buy anything you wouldn't eat. Generic brands may be cheaper, but if it tastes horrible and no one wants to eat it, it will still go to waste.
5. Avoid going food shopping with children and don't give in to their demands for highly packaged cereal, junk food and fast food that comes with toys.
6. Use leftovers creatively. Vegetables that are too bruised or withered for salad may still be good in soups, stir-frys and fried rice. Many fish and meat-based leftovers such as sausage or burger meat can be reheated and used in fried rice, noodles, sandwiches and pasta, or as pizza topping. Slightly stale bread can be used for French toast or in bread pudding. Half-finished boxes of festive candy can be used to decorate cakes and cookies. Fresh fruit can be made into jam or pie filling.
7. Ensure that the temperature thermostat in your fridge is set correctly so that fresh produce does not go bad.
8. If you buy ready-to-eat meals, such as fish-n-chips from the supermarket, then make sure they are the right size for you and nothing will be wasted afterwards.
9. Make sure you use up all your instant meals and not change your mind about eating them once they are in your kitchen.
10. On an ongoing basis, keep an eye on what is being wasted in your kitchen and what you can do to cut it out completely. An estimated 60% of food that is dumped is expired food. Therefore, keep close tabs of what you have in the fridge and cabinets. Check them each month and use up food before they go bad.
11. Eat more healthy foods – and you will find you eat less anyway. An MNS member reported that after switching to organic greens, the family found it too costly to waste vegetables and so all of the vegetables were consumed.
12. Compost your food waste to reduce the amount of waste going into our landfills. Teabags, fruit and uncooked vegetables can go into your compost pile. Cooked foods contain oils that are difficult to break down, may contaminate your compost pile and may attract flies and other disease vectors, so do not mix these food wastes into your compost.
13. Read your labels and handle and store your food properly. Most sauces, condiments and drink concentrates have to be refrigerated after opening. Some have to be used up within a certain time after opening. Canned food has to be transferred to another container, preferably glass, as it is dangerous to leave food in opened tins. Exposed tin will oxidise and change the chemical composition of its contents, thus making your food toxic. Store food in airtight containers to reduce the risk of contamination.
14. Biscuits can lose their crispness if stored too long, even in airtight containers and tins. Try adding a clean piece of coal, a carbon-based fridge deodoriser, silicone dehumidifier packets from your vitamin bottles or sugar lumps in the tin. The above items act as dehumidifiers and will draw moisture away from the biscuits. Alternatively, you can keep them fresh and crunchy by storing them in the refrigerator if you have the space. This does not create a strain on the refrigerator but instead, conserves energy, as the refrigerated food keeps the temperature constant and there is now less empty space to keep refrigerated.
15. Cut down on your grocery shopping trips. If you shop on a weekly basis, try shopping only once in 2 weeks. This will cut down on your fuel costs, the number of plastic bags used and will compel you to use up food items in your refrigerator and pantry before buying more. Don't forget that many of us make impromptu purchases while shopping, so reducing your trips will also reduce unnecessary purchases.
REDUCING YOUR CARBON "FOODPRINT"
In this economy, it's hard to prioritise the quality of your food. Why buy free-range eggs or fair trade coffee when you can get virtually the same product at a hypermarket for half the cost? However, the food we choose to buy and consume not only has a great impact on our bodies, but on our environment, as well. What seems like a trivial matter--what you choose to eat for dinner--ultimately amounts to an overwhelming issue that concerns the very future of our planet. But this doesn't mean it's a lost cause: by educating ourselves and others, we have reduced, and continue to reduce, the energy consumption due to our diets by choosing our foods wisely.
You can try measuring your carbon "foodprint" using online applications such as the Carbon Diet Calculator (http://www.eatlowcarbon.org/Carbon-Calculator.html and http://www.foodcarbon.co.uk/calculator.html), but bear in mind that as we are in Malaysia, local fruits fall into the category of "seasonal" and not "tropical".
Here are steps you can take to measure and reduce your carbon foodprint:
1. Take your food list from yesterday and calculate your carbon “foodprint.” Did you eat anything grown within 250km? Choose five items from yesterday that were not produced locally and try swapping them out for items that are produced locally.
2. For this week define your own limits. Will you only buy food grown within 100 km of your home, or food only grown in Malaysia? Will you give up beef or try veganism? If you aren’t consuming packaged products (which create trash), your choices may be easier than you think.
3. There’s no denying it — eating fewer animal products can be the single greenest move you can make. Try going vegetarian once a week, or having meat in just one of your meals each day.
4. Practice “passive cooking” by using leftover boiling water to soften and even lightly cook (or steam) things. Instead of sautéing or braising greens, massage them with some oil and vinegar until soft and wilted. Eat more raw fruits and vegetables instead of processed food. It can be as easy as having fresh fruit for dessert instead of ice cream and jelly.
5. Find ways to use your oven for shorter periods. Put food in during the preheating stage and turn the oven off early to let the heated air finish cooking your food.
6. Pack school or office sandwiches and snacks in reusable or washable cloth bags or in lunchboxes. Use glass or stainless steel lunchboxes instead of plastic ones.
7. When eating out, ask for a glass of boiled water instead of a bottle of bottled drinking water. Bring your own drinking water with you whenever possible.