Seven ways to avoid food waste: Save money and benefit the planet

Don't bin it, cook it: Support Zero Food Waste week by getting creative with your leftovers and tired fruit and veg.  It's good for the planet - and your pocket 
Seven ways to avoid food waste: Save money and benefit the planet

Chefs Erica Drum and Conor Spacey, have joined forces to host a special Zero Waste Week Supper Club at INK Café, Dún Laoghaire. Picture: Ruth Calder Potts

More than one-third of all food is wasted, according to the 2021 UN report The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World.

Weighing in at 1.3bn tonnes every year, it's a statistic that’s hard to comprehend. But chef and cookery tutor Erica Drum brings it right into focus: “The average household food waste in Ireland is the equivalent weight of 300 blocks of butter a year or €700 in monetary terms," she says. 

 Fellow chef Conor Spacey adds: “Our entire food system including our food waste is the biggest contributor to climate change.”

Drum and Spacey are hosting a special six-course Supper Club in Dún Laoghaire’s INK Café on Friday, September 10 and Saturday, September 11 for Zero Waste Week. The menu will use ingredients sourced from FoodCloud, a social enterprise that cuts down on food waste by matching businesses with surplus food to local charities. As well as feeding the guests food that would otherwise get thrown away, the chefs hope to focus attention on what we all individually can do to make a difference.

Food waste is not just bad for the planet and your pocket, what is being dumped is often what we think of as the foundations of a healthy diet: vegetables, fruit and salad are some of the most frequently discarded foods. They’re also some of the cheapest, particularly as supermarkets have been driving down food prices for years. 

It’s not a surprise that we buy too much - with the very best of intentions - and then, a few days later, realise that things are starting to fester in the bottom of the fridge or fruit bowl. 

For Drum, a key way of avoiding this is to have respect for our produce by growing something, be it as simple as “pea shoots on a windowsill or potatoes in a sack in the garden. This brings us back to basics and makes us fully understand the effort and time it takes to grow ingredients and the importance of appreciating our food. And, more often than not, your own produce is way tastier too.” 

Once you’ve put the time and effort into growing something, it’s very hard to see any of it wasted - every part of those pea shoots will be added to salads and sandwiches, the tiny potatoes that surround the main harvest spuds won’t be discarded but instead fried up as a special grower’s treat. 

Spacey believes in eating every little bit of the produce: “When we use vegetables, we always peel, or remove stems, leaves, tops etc. because we believe that we have to. What we throw away contains more vitamins than the piece we use. Learning how to eat root to fruit and ensuring that we use every part of a fruit or vegetable means that we are eating better just by avoiding waste.” 

Drum sums it up: “Respect your food, respect the grower, respect the supplier, respect the earth, respect your money... and get creative with leftovers.” 

 The Zero Waste Supper Club takes place at Dun Laoghaire’s INK Café at DLR Lexicon on Friday 10 and Saturday 11 September. Tickets (€70) are available via Eventbrite.

Top tips for avoiding food waste 

Meal plan Take five minutes to make a simple weekly meal plan - it avoids the panicky post-workshop and you’ll eat healthier meals and avoid waste as a result.

Shop at home Before you head off to acquire more food, assess the contents of your pantry, fridge and freezer. You might not even need to go shopping.

First in, first out It’s simply stock rotation, where you use the food that’s been longest in the pantry, keeping a close eye on anything that’s been pushed to the back of the shelf, before using more recent purchases.

Store correctly Whether it’s leftovers in the fridge, garden gluts in the freezer or tomatoes on the worktop, make sure that you’re putting food where it will last until you get a chance to eat it.

Love your leftovers Turn mashed potatoes into gnocchi or fishcakes, transform risotto into stuffing for baked peppers or the rice balls called arancini, repurpose roast veggies into hash or fritters. Put your imagination to work and you’ll discover that there are so many good things to do with leftovers.

Sad veg recipes A few easy recipes for using up vegetables when they start to look a little depressed ensures that you get the best from your produce. Learn how to make a simple stock, a hearty mixed vegetable soup or use limp veg as a base for stews. Salad leaves that are a bit on the wilty side can be stirred into a pasta sauce, soup or added to a cheese toastie. Also, see below for Spacey’s top three ideas.

Fruity winners Bananas and soft fruit can be frozen and, with the help of some yoghurt, juice and an immersion blender, be turned into smoothies. Stew stone fruit and apples together for a delicious compote.

Conor Spacey’s top three ideas for zero-waste meals

1. I keep all vegetable ends, skins etc to make kimchi (a fiery side dish of salted and fermented vegetables). Then I use it with leftover rice to make a kimchi fried rice that I top with a fried egg. Delicious.

 2. I always keep puff pastry sheets in my fridge, they are great to make a midweek tart. I simply roll out onto a tray, top with stir-fried vegetable leaves and stalks then top with ends of cheese and pesto made from vegetable tops and herbs, bake and eat with a nice salad.

3. Frittata – always a go-to. Leftover cooked potatoes and chopped meat or chicken, very simply fried together in a pan, fold in beaten eggs and bake. Serve in the pan on the table with crusty bread for a great brunch.

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