As has been discussed before, food waste is a huge global problem. A shocking amount of perfectly good food gets thrown into landfill on a yearly basis around the globe. In fact, if global food waste was to be considered a country, it would be the third largest emitter in the world. * Shocked Emoji*
It really is a huge, and largely unnecessary, problem. Humans seem to be really good at coming up with those- it’s almost a gift. But there are things that we can do to minimise adding to that particular issue, to repurpose waste and contribute to the UAE Sustainability Goals.
UAE SUSTAINABILITY GOALS
In 2019, it was estimated that the average food waste per person in the UAE was almost 200kg each. Let that just sink in for a second. All the food wasted in the UAE equated to almost 200 kg per person. We know that was just saying the same thing again, but we are still trying to get our heads around it!
The UAE is on a mission to reduce food waste by 75% by 2021, and we need to help each other get there.
In our previous article #zerowaste, points on how we can ensure less food is thrown away were there- but there are times, we know, where despite our best efforts there are just too many things in the fridge and it is not feasible that they will all be consumed before they go bad. However, if we spend a little extra time getting creative and organised, we really can utilise everything in our kitchens, lessen our food waste, practice sustainable living, save some money, and the planet to boot.
Ideas of what you can do with excess, scraps, odds and ends:
Vegetables really are the gifts that keep on giving. Other than giving us vitamins and nutrients and delicious meals and colourful salads, even their scraps are worth keeping.
Now these can easily be bought in cubes from the shops, and truth be told they can be quite inexpensive. But we all know that we don’t know anything about what is in that thing, right? We know they last for 14 years (or something like that) so there are many preservatives and E numbers in there for sure.
But homemade stock is very easy AND your stock doesn’t even need your best bits. It really isn’t fussy at all- as long as you have celery, carrot and onion in there you can add almost any vegetable. A few cooks have recommended that you avoid broccoli, artichokes, cabbage or cauliflower as their flavour can overpower. But feel free to add leeks (yes even the green leaves), mushrooms, herb stems such as parsley or thyme, zucchini, parsnips, pumpkin skins- whatever you have. All good to go!
If you are going to repurpose your scraps, but need to accumulate them over time, just have a container or bag in your freezer that you keep adding to and then when you are ready, pop them into a slow cooker or a large pot, cover in water (at least 2 inches or 5 cm above the vegetables) and bring to the boil. After that, let it simmer for around an hour – there are no hard and fast rules here, and then you can strain and save your stock to use in soups or stews or as a base for vegetable juices.
Although you still end up with scraps in this scenario- at least you have gotten double usage from your vegetables, and a more flavoursome stock to use in your cooking!
Pickling was a technique used by our grandmothers, their mothers and their grandmothers before them- in a time when winter meant a limited availability of fresh food, the autumn months were spent pickling to ensure that there was enough nutritious vegetables to last us through the season. And they are also incredibly delicious!
If you don’t like pickles then feel free to skip this section. But first, like are you sure you don’t like them? None at all?
(So this is a technique that you can employ when you have excess because it turns out that a KG of cauliflower was actually more than you expected.)
Although most pickles we are familiar with are cucumbers and olives (no complaints by the way) you can actually pickle many different vegetables: beetroot, carrot, cauliflower, turnips, radishes, green beans, okra, onions. Ultimately the list is endless- you can even pickle watermelon rind. Yes, it is a thing apparently. We are also curious.
All you need is a large pot to sanitise your glass jars and lids (which you also need), some vinegar, sugar, water and salt plus whatever vegetable you like to pickle. Then other things such as peppercorns, herbs, chili and garlic will depend on the recipe you have chosen. And there are so many of them online. Most pickles last between 2-6 weeks so get those glass jars out from the back of your cupboard and put them to use!
Unless you want to save them for the next item on our list…
There are lots of things to love about chutneys. They can be spicy, sweet, savoury, tangy, chunky, smooth, all of the above! The amount of potential flavour combinations that can rock your world when you make a chutney are endless. Again, hundreds of recipes are on the internet- the only bad thing? It can take weeks (weeks!) for the chutney to, well, become chutney. So if you are patient, this is another fantastic method to preserve food, repurpose waste (especially if your foods are looking a little worn out) and also to make sure you are getting the good stuff without any of the preservatives and additives that the store-bought kind will inevitably have.
Herbs, as much as they are little power houses of flavour, can easily be wasted because we usually buy them in bunches, use them sparingly, and watch them turn whilst thinking “oh yeah, I’ve got all that mint I need to use up!”
One option is to put some in some hot water to brew a fresh herbal tea (which is great for your body, mind you) but there are other things you can do to use them up and save them from landfill.
Refill Your Herb Rack
One method to upcycle your fresh herbs is to dry them- most of us have store bought herbs in the pantry, but we can easily refill the jars with our own. Ultimately you can tie them up in little bunches and hang them upside down in a dry space (balcony on the UAE summer is not recommended) and leave it for a few weeks. If you want them faster, you can dry them in your oven in just over an hour – and you’ll probably get a nice herby smell in your home, too. Bonus.
Herb Butter or Oil
Another delicious option is to make herb oil and or butter. It really is as easy as just combining the two. For butter, chop up your herbs super fine, add garlic or any other flavour, and mix with butter- you can use a fork or a mixer. Then, fit into a mould or shape in some cling fill and pop it back in the fridge to set. For the oil, it is probably best to combine your chopped herbs and oil in a blender to make it smooth, then sieve back into a bottle or jar. Again you can add other flavours such as chili or garlic to the jar to infuse and add a little extra. (Pretty much always add garlic!)
You can add these to steaks, roasted vegetables, or even just a nice warm piece of bread. A simple way to make an impression if you are serving a platter at a party- because, let’s be honest, everyone loves a bit of herb butter, right?
Freeze Herb Portions
If you prefer the flavour of fresh herbs, another idea is to freeze them in your ice-cube tray. What you will need to do is clean out your tray, chop your herbs and fill in the cubes. Then pour boiling water over them and pop the tray in your freezer. The heat to cold action will keep them green, and the ice-cube tray will keep them in easy to use portion sizes. Of course the leaves will wilt slightly once they are melted and in your cooking- but still, fresh herbs on demand!
Composting is the ultimate method for sustainable living, where you put back to the earth all the nutrients it has given you. How you compost will depend heavily on where you live, but the ultimate goal is to reuse and ultimately recycle your food waste by putting it back into the system from whence it came. (Some information on that will be shared shortly!) But here are some other things you can do to reuse “trash”.
Are you fully aware of all the great things that your eggshells can do? Ultimately they are the best source of calcium that our body is able to absorb. And yes, we can digest it (animals can too!) so next time you make an omelette save your shells, clean them (either boil them or bake them) and then grind them up and sprinkle some into your morning smoothie, or add some to your pet’s food bowl. It is a great addition with little flavour that your bones will love.
Another option is to sprinkle it on your garden. Again, everything loves your eggshells.
Another waste product that is created almost on the daily are coffee grinds. If the thought of instant makes you crinkle your nose, then you must be producing a small amount of coffee grinds quite regularly. The good news is that you can upcycle them, too.
To keep on theme of the garden, your pot would love a sprinkle of coffee grinds- just make sure you dry them out first. This can be done by just collecting them in a tray and laying them out till dry.
Once dried, they are also great to use for absorbing smells. Just like bicarb, you can have a small bowl of used coffee in the back of your fridge or other places you feel might accumulate smell. Have a family shoe rack? Buy some muslin and make coffee packs- then sit them snug inside and let do what they need to do.
A third option is to use them as a face exfoliator! Just add half a teaspoon to some olive oil and gently rub on your face for a few minutes. Let it sit for a while and then wash off with a warm towel. Face is instantly exfoliated and moisturised! The only thing to be aware of is to make sure that you are not flushing a huge amount down the sink as they do not dissolve and can eventually cause pipes to clog.
Ultimately the options are almost endless in regards to what can be done with what we think of as food waste. There is almost always a way that we can reuse, repurpose, recycle or upcycle – it is all part of sustainable practise: you can make ice-pops from fruit, or cleaning products from lemon and lemon rind, or use vegetable scraps as natural food dye, potpourri from herbs and dried fruit skins.
There are so many things we can do! So next time you think that something might need to get thrown in the trash soon, see if you can’t do something else delicious or useful instead.