How to reduce your food waste

Today is World Environment Day and the 2013 theme is anti-food waste. With up to 2bn tonnes of food discarded worldwide every year, Michelin-rated chef and SuperScrimpers’ star Dev Biswal gives his top tips for reducing waste

Up to 50% of all food produced in the world is never consumed, according to a new report by The Institution of Mechanical Engineers, which states that between 1.2 and 2bn tonnes of food is wasted globally each year.

In the developing world, wastage is the result of inefficient harvesting, poor storage and inadequate transportation. In the west, according to the report, sloppy habits, poor meal planning and a disconnection from food sources mean we simply just waste it.

Up to 30% of fruit and vegetables grown in the UK are never harvested, crops are rejected because of size or appearance, or ploughed back because of over-production, and each year in Britain we simply discard £10bn worth of food – £480 per household.

Supermarkets are often pinpointed for this issue, as ‘buy one, get one free’ offers can lead to over-purchasing, but others argue that shoppers, who reject cosmetically imperfect vegetables or discard perfectly sound food because of a date stamp, are to blame.

And despite recent price hikes, food costs are in fact at a historic low. In 1950 Brits spent 25% of their income on food and drink, according to the Treasury’s public spending statistics. Today that figure is below 10%, lower than in any other European country. Is it easier to throw away cheap food?

Dev Biswal, a patron chef of Michelin-ranked The Ambrette in Rye, East Sussex, is resident chef on Channel 4 show SuperScrimpers’ Challenge. Each week Biswal shows viewers how to eat well, eliminate waste and save money. Here, he offers his tips.

Use a pressure cooker

It cooks rice, root vegetables, lentils and pulses in a fraction of the time and tenderises cheaper, more delicious cuts of meat. Pressure cookers can also be used as an ordinary large saucepan. It will also reduce your energy consumption.

Buy local

Buy from fruit and veg stalls, farmers’ markets and local fishmongers and butchers. Ask them what’s in season and good value at the moment. Build a rapport with them, as stallholders often reward their regulars with a little bit extra. Locally grown veg will have been harvested later than that transported from abroad, so taste better.

Grow herbs at home

Grow herbs and spices in pots on an indoor window sill or window box. They’ll be fresher and more flavoursome – infinitely better than the dried variety. Save fresh herbs by freezing them in ice cube trays with a little water. You can also save stock this way.

Keep chickens

If you have a garden, keep a couple of chickens. They’re better pets than rabbits or guinea pigs and you’ll get fresh eggs. You don’t need a cockerel for them to lay. They’ll eat all your vegetable waste.

Don’t rely on ‘best before’ dates

Don’t confuse ‘best before’ dates with ‘use by’ dates. Smell fresh food; if it’s been stored properly, smells and tastes OK, then it will be. Dried food keeps for years, decades even. ‘Best before’ means that some of the flavour may have been lost, but it’s not a health warning. Just always be very careful with fresh fish and meat, which should have a ‘use by’ date.

Freeze and reuse

Freeze and reuse leftovers. Look up recipes on the internet for cooking with leftovers; it’s amazing what you can do with last night’s spag bol. Stews and soups are easy, wholesome and simple to store. And they often taste better made with leftovers.

Think ahead

Buy a whole chicken (more expensive ones are better if you can afford them) as it can feed a family for a week. Roasting a chicken is straightforward and boiling the carcass will make delicious stock, soup or stew. You’ll notice the difference. Make your own sandwiches with the cold meat for work – it takes a few seconds and over a year will save enough to pay for a holiday, if you stop buying them from a sandwich bar.

Make it social

Prepare meals at the kitchen table while your kids do their homework, paint, or play. It’s social and surprisingly relaxing.

Shop with the specialists

Buy herbs and spices from ethnic shops. You’ll get a much higher quantity and better quality for much less than you will pay for those tiny branded packets sold in supermarkets. If you live in an area with large ethnic minority populations, their greengrocers will likely stock fruit and vegetables sold for taste and freshness. They often sell varieties that have less cosmetic appeal, but superior taste. Just discard the discoloured, bruised and knobbly bits when you peel them.