Thursday, 24 April 2014

15 ways to avoid wasting food and why (plus what to do if all else fails)!

Reducing food waste is something that has become more and more important to me.  It hasn't always been this way.  In the past I really didn't give much thought to it, I felt bad that there were people going hungry in the world, but I didn't directly connect it with the food that I was wasting and I also didn't have any idea of the impact of throwing food in the bin to be taken to landfill.

Now I have a much clearer idea of why I shouldn't waste food - three key reasons being that  :

  • food rots in landfill and produces methane - a greenhouse gas (see more on Recycle Now)
  • it is a massive waste of money - the average family throws around £60 of food away a month, much of it perfectly good food (statistics taken from Love Food Hate Waste)
  • it isn't just people who live far away from me that are going hungry, they may well be people who live very close to me that don't have enough to eat - '913,138 people received three days’ emergency food from Trussell Trust foodbanks in 2013-14 compared to 346,992 in 2012-13' (reference taken from the Trussell Trust) - Trussell Trust food bank usage has shockingly tripled since last year!  We have a growing food poverty crisis in this country, which needs to be addressed.
On top of this on the Love Food Hate Waste website it says that UK households are responsible for 50% of the food wasted in this country.  I have mentioned all the above before, but I think it is so important that it needs saying again and I think that the fact UK households are responsible for 50% of the food waste in this country is both good news and bad news.  The bad news is that we are wasting so much food, but the good news is that we don't need to wait for any government initiatives or programmes or funding or anything, we can all just get started now, today with wasting less food and we are the ones who can have the biggest impact!

Most people I talk to about food waste, tell me that they don't waste any food or only waste it very rarely.  I don't believe them.  I don't think they are lying to me, I just don't think it is something they are really aware of, or know they are doing.  Last September I kept a food waste diary as part of National Zero Waste Week and I was really surprised at how even though I was trying really hard not to waste food, it was still getting wasted (see the first day of my food waste diary here). Since then I have been much more aware of food waste and have the following tips and tricks to keep it to a minimum.
  1. Keep a food waste diary for a week or two like I did - work out what you keep buying too much of, what is being regularly chucked away and what your problem areas are in relation to food waste. Even if you think you are really good at not wasting food, I recommend doing this as you may surprise yourself like I did.  
  2. Shop local and just buy what you need! In my local grocers there are no buy one get one free offers.  I know how many bananas I need a week and I buy that number of bananas.  Similarly I know how many apples, cucumbers, carrots and so on I need and I just buy what I need.  I'm not tempted to buy 3 more bananas than I need because they are on special and I'm not tempted to try the latest brand of novelty crisps, biscuits, soft drink because they are on offer.  I am far less likely to stray from my shopping list because there are far less products to choose from in my local grocers, butchers and corner shop (the places I do most of my food shopping).
  3. Count potatoes - If I am making roast potatoes I will use 2-3 medium sized potatoes for an adult and 2 for a child (I chop each potato in half, so adults will get 4-6 pieces of roasted potatoes and children 4).  I buy very large potatoes for baking and chop them in half, so that one potato will be enough for 2 people.  If I have any potatoes left over, I let them cool down and then I freeze them for another time. Next time I want them I put them back in the oven for 30 mins to an hour (until they are piping hot all the way through)
  4. Weigh dried goods such as rice and pasta - I use 100g of pasta for an adult and 50g each for my kids (aged 3 and 5 - although as they are growing I think this will need to be increased).  I use 75g of rice for an adult and 50g of rice for the kids.
  5. Sometimes I leave something in the oven with the oven off to keep cooking for a bit (using up the residual heat after it has been on) while we are eating.  It is so easy to forget it is in there and remember it the next day at which point it needs to be chucked away.  My husband now makes sure I put the timer on the oven for half an hour later (or a convenient length of time), which is a great reminder to take whatever it was out in case it got forgotten.  When I was making yoghurt and leaving it in the oven overnight, I made myself a notice to put on the oven door to remind me to take the yoghurt out in the morning (see more about making yoghurt in an oven here)
  6. Freeze leftovers - If you freeze leftovers then you don't have to use them up straight away and they will be good for quite a while.  I find if I put them in the fridge it is far too easy to forget about them and not use them up in time. I try to avoid having leftover rice and pasta by weighing it first, as although you can freeze it, I don't think it defrosts very well without a microwave (I got rid of mine a while ago - read more here) and I'm not good at remembering to take food out in advance.  You also have to be quite careful freezing rice as there is a risk of food poisoning. The 'leftover' foods I do freeze though include homemade sauces, roasted, baked or mashed potatoes (sometimes mashed with veg or butternut squash), leftover roast chicken, cooked meat and cooked fish.  I would never freeze any cooked foods that had been frozen before and when I use the frozen cooked foods if they aren't eaten straight away they would go on the compost heap. If reheating frozen cooked foods, it is very important to make sure they are piping hot all the way through before eating.  If defrosting cooked foods to eat cold, it is very important to make sure they are fully defrosted the whole way through before eating.
  7. No dessert until you have eaten it all up! It is very hard to predict how much my kids will eat - sometimes they eat more than me and other times they take one look at their dinner and say no thanks.  We have a policy in our household that the kids can eat as much or as little as they like of the food put in front on them, but if they haven't finished their dinner, then they don't get any dessert. If they literally haven't touched it, or there is a lot left, I would put it in the fridge for the next day.  I used to be the one who ended up eating it with salad, but these days I don't eat half the things they do (I am currently doing the Paleo diet), so unless I can convince them or my husband to eat it, it would probably go in the compost heap.  
  8. Freeze bread - this works better if you are buying the branded shop bought bread than if you freeze fresh bread.  I freeze the pieces at an angle in the bag they come in which makes it easier to separate them once they are frozen (I have written more about this here and there is a picture which might help to explain it more).  I used to freeze bread, when I had bought two loaves because they were on special offer and I didn't want the second loaf to go off before I had used the first loaf. 
  9. If it is too late to freeze bread, my husband sometimes takes the loaf of bread to work with him, toasts it just before he is going to eat it and makes sandwiches with the toast.  If this isn't practical there are loads of things you can do with day old bread - I have a few ideas here, my favourite of which is to make melba toast.  It is really simple, just toast some bread, chop off the crusts, separate the pieces of toast so that it looks like you have two slices of toast, except only one side is toasted.  Put the non-toasted sides facing upwards on a tray in the oven and cook them for a few minutes, keeping a close eye to make sure they don't burn. Once hard and brittle, let them cool completely and store in an airtight container.
  10. Give blackened bananas a new lease of life!  There is never any excuse to chuck out a banana, there is always something you can do with it, even it is just to chop it up in to coin shaped slices and chuck it in the freezer to use another time.   The same is true of most fruit that has gone a bit too ripe.  I blitz banana or avocado with fruit (one of the ingredients needs to be frozen) to make a dairy free, sugar free sorbet like this one which uses avocados all the time - it's yummy! I have a great (unfortunately for me sugar filled) banana tea bread recipe here and more suggestions of what to do with bananas that are past their best here.
  11. I could write a whole book on what to do with leftover cooked veg, squashes and potato, but here are a few ideas to get you going:  Turn them into mash, use them as the basis of a soup or a dip, or a smoothie, or a juice, eat them cold with salad or in a sandwich, use them as an ingredient in a cake - I have a great butternut squash tea bread recipe here, or mix with a strong flavoured frozen fruit to turn them into a sugar free, dairy free sorbet!
  12. Freeze milk! If you know you have bought too much milk, while it is still fresh freeze it in ice cube trays. Then pop out the ice cubes and put them in a container in the freezer.  When I had too much milk and cheese recently I made a whole load of cheese sauce to use them up and froze it in containers (see here)
  13. Freeze grated cheese if you can't use it in time!  I've been told frozen cheese isn't good for much other than cooking after it is defrosted and that it is best to grate it first.  I haven't tried this personally though.
  14. Freeze yoghurt or make it into a dip! If can't use it all up, then you can make homemade frozen yoghurt - if it is plain yoghurt, mix it with a bit of fruit similar to how I have mentioned above with bananas and blitz it together to get an instant desert. Plain yoghurt also makes a great base for dips such as tzatziki - just mix a little up with some finely chopped cucumber and fresh mint or make Indian raiti (pretty similar really, but you might want to add a bit of chilli to spice it up!).  There are loads of dips you can make, you could mix it with cream cheese, garlic, chives - get experimenting!
  15. Follow a recipe - given my last statement about getting experimenting, this is a bit of a contradiction.  I'm not great at following recipes and I think experimenting is a brilliant way to learn about food and to come up with new ideas. However my experiments do sometimes (i.e. fairly frequently) end up in the compost heap. Following a recipe from a trusted source i.e. a blog / cook book whose recipes seem reliable and actually taste good once you have made them, can save you wasting food on failed experiments...  If like me you still want to experiment though, take notes of what you did as you go along, then next time you can look back at what worked and what didn't and eventually you will have your own set of recipes that you invented to follow!
I'm sure there are a million more ways to avoid food waste, but these ones should keep you going for a while! 

Even with the best will in the world and after doing all these things, it is highly likely that you will still have food that doesn't get eaten.  It might be that your kids didn't clear their plates and they have a cold/ bug/ virus that you don't want to catch or pass on to anyone.  It might be that you are doing an elimination diet (like I am) and that you suddenly decide you don't want to eat a particular food group that you already have some of in the house.  You could be going away and clearing out the fridge beforehand or maybe you got the wrong food by accident or substituted in your online groceries. Whatever the reason you don't want/ can't use the food, you really don't want to be chucking that food in the bin (for all the reasons I outlined at the beginning).

Instead of chucking it you can:

  • Give it to friends, family or strangers.  If you don't know anyone personally who wants your food, you can give food away on Freegle and Freecycle.  Also I recently set up a Facebook food sharing group for my local area (read more here) and am hoping once the group gets a bit bigger people will be able to eat for free from it and no good food will have to go to landfill again in my local area.  There is nothing to stop you from doing the same, it only takes 5 minutes to set up a group and invite all your friends!
  • Compost it at home.  We used to have a bog standard compost heap that only composted fruit and veg scraps and garden waste.  Recently we invested in a Green Johanna hot composter in which you can compost those things plus meat, fish and cooked foods. They are available to buy on Amazon here or if you are lucky enough to live in my local area, Brighton and Hove council are offering them at a greatly discounted rate here.
  • Recycle it - some councils have a food waste collection scheme.  My local council doesn't, but if yours does and you don't have a garden to make compost in, then this is a great option.
  • Community compost schemes.  In my town there are some community compost projects, where people can take food waste to.  This is a great way for people who don't have gardens or council run food waste collections to still be able to compost their food waste. I have had vague thoughts about knocking on my neighbours doors and asking them if they want to compost their food waste in my Green Johanna, but as I don't know them that well I'm not quite sure how they would take that suggestion :).
I feel really passionately that we can all make a massive difference to the huge issues of food waste and food poverty, by just changing our habits and our culture a little, to make sure that we waste as little food as possible, we give away what we can't use and we compost anything that is unable to be rescued.  

I am currently undertaking a Year of Eco Challenges . If you have a moment I would really appreciate it if you would consider sponsoring me with an action (no money involved) on my DoNation page. Also if you liked this post please click like on Facebook and follow on Twitter - thanks so much!

Sunday, 20 April 2014

My Year of Eco Challenges - Challenge 8

I haven't used shampoo on my hair since last September (read more here). I haven't visited a supermarket since last October (read more here). I haven't bought anything new or secondhand for myself since last November (with some exceptions allowed - read more here), I have been trying to give something away each day since last December (read more here) . In January I signed up to the Rubbish Diet and slimmed my bin (read more here). In February I quit using toilet paper for a month (read more here) and in March I decided to start a food sharing revolution in my local area (read more here)! Alongside these challenges, I have been sugar free since February last year (read more here) and I am also preparing to go single use plastic free for Plastic Free July!  Not to mention a recent stint of going dairy free and an even more recent stint of trying out the Paleo diet.

I've been busy to say the least and recently have been starting to feel the strain (something I wrote about here). Most of these challenges have either become a way of life or only lasted a month, but some of these challenges are quite hard work.

The hardest has definitely been preparing to go single use plastic free for July and the next hardest is mending things.  When I said I wasn't going to buy anything new, the idea was that I would also go on a mending spree - that hasn't really happened.  Although some things have been mended a lot of things haven't. 

So for this months challenge I am going to set myself some specific goals around mending and going single use plastic free.

  1. I am going to mend 5 things from my mending pile this month (if I get through them really quickly, I will try and mend up to 10 things in total, but I don't want to over commit myself!)
  2. I am also going to try and cross off a few more things from my going single use plastic free to do list (read more here) specifically:
    1. Go and check out the shops in my area which sell unpackaged goods and start buying household staples like nuts, seeds, pasta, rice and noodles unpackaged where possible.
    2. Buy some biodegradable dental floss - there are various brands of silk floss available (I'm not sure if they come in plastic case though, so need to find out)
    3. Set up a milk delivery from the milkman in glass bottles
    4. Buy a reusable bed wetting mat
    5. Find a dishwasher powder that comes in a cardboard box with no plastic packaging (my attempts at making dishwasher powder have so far been unsuccessful)
    6. Work out a bread recipe that my husband likes, so that we don't need to buy bread that comes in plastic bags (or give up on that and decide that my husbands food doesn't count towards me going single use plastic free, but make a decision either way...)
That's it for this month and I'm feeling good about it - hopefully by the time July comes round I will already be single use plastic free and it will be a breeze (you never know :) )

Look out for my next challenge which I will be announcing on the 20th May and also for my updates on how I am going with this challenge and the various other challenges I am undertaking!

I am currently undertaking a Year of Eco Challenges . If you have a moment I would really appreciate it if you would consider sponsoring me with an action (no money involved) on my DoNation page. Also if you liked this post please click like on Facebook and follow on Twitter - thanks so much!

Friday, 18 April 2014

Vodka air freshener safety warning!

Although vodka may be good at getting rid of the smell of smoke it is also highly flammable.  I recently burned some popcorn and filled my house with smoke and afterwards I managed to get rid of the smell with the help of some vodka as an air freshener as well as some other non-toxic cleaning products (read more here)

On my recent blog post about it an anonymous commenter said 'One point. You used Vodka to spray down the kitchen surfaces and into the air as an air freshener. Be careful! Vodka is very flammable as it contains about 40% ethanol (alcohol) by volume and you could end up with a fireball if the ethanol-laden air in your kitchen was exposed to a naked flame or even the spark of a light switch.'

I didn't think about vodka being flammable - I had to try it out as google says it both is and isn't flammable.  I put a small amount of the vodka I used (pictured) in a glass bowl and set fire to it. It burned with a blue flame...  When I used vodka as an air freshener / cleaning I did it in a well ventilated room well away from any naked flames/ sparks and it sounds like I was lucky more than once after burning some popcorn!!!!

So be very careful if using vodka as an air freshener or cleaning product and avoid any sparks or naked flames.  Also diluting it in water would be a good idea and also make it go further.

I am currently undertaking a Year of Eco Challenges . If you have a moment I would really appreciate it if you would consider sponsoring me with an ACTION (no money involved) on my DoNation page. Also if you liked this post please click like on Facebook and follow on Twitter - thanks so much!

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Thank goodness for fire alarms and vodka!

Thank goodness for fire alarms!

Recently I put some popcorn in a pan on the hob, went out the room for a few minutes, got sidetracked and the next thing I knew the fire alarm was going off. I immediately remembered the popcorn and went straight to the kitchen which was filled with smoke. My three year old followed me and we both breathed in the smoke, which wasn't great to say the least.

Very luckily the popcorn wasn't on fire and I immediately turned off the hob, opened the door to the garden and put the popcorn outside, where it continued to let off smoke.  I went back through the house opening outside doors and windows to let air in and the smoke out and the house was cleared of smoke within a few minutes.  

The smell stayed though.  The house absolutely stank and I had a sore throat for days afterwards, as probably did my three year old.  Smoke inhalation is one of the key killers in a fire and even without the popcorn being on fire we could have been seriously harmed if we hadn't got away from the smoke quickly, so we were pretty lucky.

Non-toxic ways to get rid of the smell of smoke

The only cleaning products I usually use are water, lemon juice, bicarbonate of soda and vinegar. Articles on the internet about getting rid of the smell of smoke talked about having to air the house for days, potentially replace carpets, cooker hood filters and soft furnishings e.g. curtains, as well as scrubbing every inch of the walls and cupboards clean after a house has been filled with smoke. When I read that I got pretty stressed, but decided to give the non-toxic cleaning techniques a go anyway before I started throwing things out. Also luckily for us most of the smoke had been contained in the kitchen and hallway, which have wood floors and not much in the way of soft furnishings.

I did the following:

  • I aired the house as much as possible for around 3 days.  
  • I sprayed and wiped the kitchen floor and cupboards inside and out and some walls alternately with vinegar and vodka (the vodka was a tip I picked up on the internet!) as well as just spraying them into the air as an air freshener.  WARNING - As mentioned in the comments below, vodka is highly flammable and shouldn't be used as an air freshener or cleaning product anywhere near a fire, naked flame or sparks. 
  • I washed the saucepan the popcorn burned in thoroughly with bicarbonate of soda and I gave the extractor fan filters the same treatment.  
After a few days the smoke smell from the house was gone and although it took a little longer for the smell to fully go from the saucepan and extractor fan filters, they are just fine now!

No sore throat sweets for me

To be honest if I had found some in the cupboard I probably would have had some, but we didn't have any and I would prefer not to take them, because really they are just sweets.  Even the sugar free versions aren't great as they are full of sweeteners.  What I did do was drink lots of hot lemon with a little honey (I don't usually have honey because I am sugar free, but I decided to make an exception in this case).  Sometimes I also added cloves and chamomile flowers.  I tried to give some cooled down tea to my son, but he wasn't having any of it. I did give him a little honey though.

Lessons learned

Before this happened I hadn't given much thought to a fire drill in the house.  My natural reaction was to go straight to the kitchen and of course my 3 year old followed. If that kind of thing ever happens again, I would put my son in a safe place first and get a fire blanket ready before I go anywhere near a potential fire.  We have one in our kitchen which is near the door to the room. In this situation it probably would have been better to have one in the hallway, but we keep it in the kitchen as it seems more likely there would be a problem while we are in the kitchen.  We have mains wired fire alarms in our house and I'm very glad we do and that they work!  Otherwise it could have been a very different story.  I also won't be leaving the room while making popcorn again!

Although I wasn't too happy that my house stank of smoke for days and that my son and I had sore throats, I was really pleased and relieved that I didn't have to throw anything away and that the non-toxic cleaning products and methods worked so well.  Also I have had a mostly unused bottle of vodka in my cupboard for years and it was good to be able to find a use for it!  My son and I are fine now and all I can say is thank goodness for fire alarms and vodka!

I am currently undertaking a Year of Eco Challenges . If you have a moment I would really appreciate it if you would consider sponsoring me with an ACTION (no money involved) on my DoNation page. Also if you liked this post please click like on Facebook and follow on Twitter - thanks so much!

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