Empty shelves, massive line-ups, panic buying - we all continue to live with that constant reminder of the global COVID-19 pandemic. The fear-based apocalypse-esque reaction in our local communities like Coquitlam and Burnaby - and all over the world - in March 2020 was to stockpile food (and other products, like toilet paper) in fear of it running out.
But what if COVID-19 is actually an opportunity to reframe our thinking. Could this be the wake-up call that we need to get us to understand the importance of local food systems and sustainable living?
Did you know that nearly one-third of all food produced in the world is discarded or wasted for various reasons - that's a whopping 1.3 billion tonnes each year! But it's not just money that's wasted when edible food is thrown away. Discarded food is sent to landfills, where it rots and produces methane gas - the second most common greenhouse gas and more harmful than carbon dioxide. In other words, throwing out your food can contribute to climate change on a massive scale: Food waste accounts for approximately 6% of total global greenhouse gas emissions!
Throwing out unwanted food also wastes a huge amount of water - 24% of water used for agriculture to be precise - which is about 45 trillion gallons (about 170 trillion liters)!
Indeed, the global pandemic can be seen as an opportunity for us to take actionable steps to instill sustainable living habits and reduce our food waste.
In conjunction with utilizing community composting programs or composing ourselves, there are other ways we can help reduce food waste. Here are some of the simple ways that we help reduce food waste and start living more sustainably.
Your Freezer is Your Best Ally
It's no wonder that freezers have been selling out fast since the beginning of the pandemic! As with fridges, they are vital to have for food preservation. Leftover foods like soups, stews, salsas, broths, curries, and sauces all store well in glass jars in the freezer. Fruit can be frozen on a parchment-lined baking sheet and then store them in sealed containers. Crumble up stale bread (or the ends of the loaf you don't eat) and freeze your new breadcrumbs. Use those ice cube trays for more than just water - stuff them with pestos or vegetable stock instead, so you can use them in your cooking later for an extra hit of flavour. The nice thing about storing food in the freezer is you'll have instant frozen meals for when you need something in a pinch during those busy days!
Use Up Food Scraps if You Can
Before you compost your food, think about whether you need to. For example, the trimmed ends and peelings of vegetables like celery, carrots, onions, mushrooms and potatoes can be used again. You can store in the freezer until you have a big enough pile. Then, throw them all in a pot, cover them with water and make homemade vegetable stock. And for the meat-eaters, save the bones of chicken or fish to make stock, too.
Shop Smart While some say that one big shop and buying in bulk saves you more money and is more convenient, research has shown that this shopping method leads to more food waste.
To avoid buying more food than you need: Make frequent trips to the grocery store every few days rather than doing a bulk shopping trip once a week (if you are able to). Try not to purchase things simply because they are on sale or the bulk price is cheaper, unless the items are ones that will last a while, such as beans and grains.
Make a point to use up all the food you purchased during the last trip to the store/farmer's market before buying more groceries. Additionally, try making a list of items that you need to buy and stick to that list. This will help you reduce impulse buying and reduce food waste as well.
Store Food Correctly for Ultimate Preservation According to the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) food spoilage significantly contributes to the food waste issue. Specifically they found that food spoilage in homes was primarily due to improper or suboptimal storage, and poor visibility in refrigerators. In the U.K. alone, about two-thirds of household waste is due to food spoilage. In order to reduce food spoilage, it is important to understand the best ways to store certain types of foods - especially in your refrigerator.
Did you know it matters where you put your food in the fridge? Every food has an ideal spot. For example, milk, yogurt, cheese, sour cream and fresh-squeezed juices do best on the lower shelves and not the fridge door, as this is the best consistently cold area in the fridge. And although there are often egg holders located in fridge doors, some would say that the best place for eggs is actually on the lower shelves. For more information on the best ways to store your food in the fridge, check this out.
Learn to Preserve While you might think fermenting and pickling are new fads, food preservation techniques like these have been used for thousands of years. Who'd have guessed that pickling, a type of preservation method using brine or vinegar, may have been used as far back as 2400 BC? People were pretty smart even back then.
Pickling, drying, canning, fermenting, freezing and curing are all methods you can use to make food last longer, thus reducing waste. Beyond the classic cucumbers, other fruits (yes, fruits!) and vegetables that work well for pickles include asparagus, beets, bell peppers, blueberries, cauliflower, carrots, cherries, fennel, ginger, grapes, green beans, mushrooms, onions, parsnips, peaches, peppers, radishes, ramps, rhubarb, strawberries, squash, tomatoes, turnips, watermelon. The list goes on and on. If you need some tips on pickling, here is a useful guide.
Not only will these methods shrink your carbon footprint, they will save you money as well. What's more, most preservation techniques are simple and can be fun. And as well as pickling, you can also make sauces and purees for desserts and baking. For example, apple sauce from unused apples, plum compote if you have too many plums from your tree. As you can see, there are many options for preserving your food.
Rotate your food in the pantry and fridge You've probably heard the saying, "out of sight, out of mind." This rings especially true when it comes to food. While having a well-stocked fridge can be a good thing, an overly filled fridge can be bad when it comes to food waste.
To help reduce food spoilage keep your fridge organized so you can clearly see foods and know when they were purchased. A good way to stock your fridge is by using the FIFO method, which stands for "first in, first out." For example, when you buy a new carton of berries, place the newer package behind the old one. This helps ensure that older food gets used, not wasted.
Save Leftovers Leftovers aren't just for the Holidays! Although many people save excess food from large meals, it is often forgotten in the fridge, then tossed when it goes bad. Storing leftovers in a clear glass container, rather than in an opaque container, helps ensure you don't forget the food. And 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. What's more, it saves you time and money.
So as you can see there are many ways we can help to reduce food waste in our kitchens and homes. Just by taking these simple steps we can preserve our food - while saving time and money in the process.
Do you have any great tips for reducing food waste that work for you?