I Gave a Fork! this October by hosting a #wastefree event – and it was the most inspiring thing I’ve done all year. The Give a Fork! campaign is all about putting your fork where your mouth is and taking action against WASTE, one of the biggest environmental disasters facing our planet today. Captained by the fabulous team at The Sustainable Table I followed all the steps to putting on a delicious lunch for friends and family, and in doing so was able to educate my guests on how to buy into a food system that is fair, humane, healthy, waste free and good for the environment. Piece of lemon pie!
Being an avid foodie I was keen to take on the #wastefree challenge and, although I consider myself a very conscious cook, it was incredible just how much packaging and edible food can be wasted in the kitchen. To most of us using reusable shopping bags is common sense (whether we actually remember to take the bags with us to the shops is another story), but it’s the common products like cling film, tin foil and plastic produce bags which are easily overlooked when shopping and cooking. And then there is the leftovers; when I was growing up we used to have a running joke in my family that Mum (always the feeder) was doing science experiments in the fridge because of all the leftovers that would sit, just waiting to be uncovered completely unrecognisable weeks later. And what about the food that doesn’t even make it to the plate – the food that goes off or loses its ‘perky shape’ before you get a chance to eat it? It happened a lot when I was growing up which I’m not proud of, and it’s common in a lot of families, but it’s simply because we cook and buy more food than we need. Quite the bad habit.
I had to hold myself FULLY ACCOUNTABLE whilst doing this challenge and because I took it so seriously I had to face-up to all the, totally avoidable, waste I created! LEARNING all of this really got me thinking, how much do us foodies really know about waste? And how can we be part of the solution? **you may be thinking that this is where I admit to being a daisy-chain wearing, shoeless, tree hugging hippie (no problems there) – but I can guarantee you none of the following is fluffy nonsense, it’s all achievable, realistic and practical information that can give you the tools to drastically reducing our waste problem.
First, a background story. Once upon a time each individual was responsible for his or her waste, turning organic matter into compost, growing their own food, using the whole animal, eating the whole vegetable, eating what was available – wasting nothing. Because anything you wasted, was your problem…or your property to be handed down to your children. But now we are able avoid the short term responsibility of our own waste by collecting it into a big bin and leaving it by the side of the road for the garbos (*garbage collectors) to pick up, take away and process thorough our various landfill sites or recycling plants. So what are we throwing away? To put it into perspective for you, this is the average AU dollar amount of food and packaging that goes into landfill each year.
Where does it go? The food we waste often arrives at a landfill site, allowed to decompose amongst all the other waste we create giving off harmful methane gas. ***Methane gas is a pollutant and contributes 25% more to carbon emissions than your car exhaust does. Plus in an ideal world organic waste would be utilised to improve soil health, not add to air pollution. (***courtesy of The Sustainable Table)
It’s hard to avoid waste all together, I appreciate that and so does the team behind this campaign. It’s not about being off the grid completely, it’s about considering your actions and being educated about your choices. How did I avoid waste in putting on a lunch for 16 people?
- I chose a simple menu that utilised what I already had in the fridge, pantry and freezer
- I shopped locally for locally grown organic produce, meat and dairy
- I sourced dry goods from a whole foods store, using my own jars where possible and buying reusable glass bottles for things like olive oil, honey and vinegar
- I swapped cling film for bowls or dishes with a plate turned upside down to make a lid – bulky? yes. But you get used to it and after a while wonder why cling film was even invented!
- I used the same ingredients in more than 1 dish. E.g: repurposing the fruit from the sangria to make a fruit salad to go with dessert – thank you Raymond Blanc!
- I asked each guest to bring a bowl so they could take leftovers home with them
- I shopped at the local butcher, fishmonger and farmers market for fresh produce – I said no to plastic bags, took my own shopping basket, bought the misshaped fruit & veg that was in the bargain bins and only bought what was on the list (this was not easy for me!)
- I said no to herbs and leafy greens that were prepackaged and, where I couldn’t find loose leaves/herbs, I altered my menu accordingly
- All organic scraps went into the compost bin, ready to fuel mums herb garden in 3 months time. Here is how to set up a worm farm or compost bin – this can be done on a apartment balcony so no space is too small.
- For the laughs I had everyone dress in their favourite repurposed outfit! A vintage number, opp-shop steal or hand-me-down…it’s amazing what some people don’t want anymore – my favourite a fluro pink bubble dress. Door prize goes to Kepsi! Killing it.
Lessons learnt? I learnt that often avoiding waste is harder than creating waste, which wasn’t a fun thing to learn but it helped educate and remind me of my responsibilities as a cook and an eater. I don’t often buy packaged or processed foods so plastic waste from those sources doesn’t enter my house much, but if you’re thinking that your last shopping bag looked a lot like a plastic-food-fortress then take a few moments to notice what you’re taking home and throwing out, use that to inform your next shopping expedition and maybe even try to reduce the amount of packaged food you buy each time you shop. The one thing that felt unavoidable was the use of plastic produce bags when buying meat or seafood. This is where I slipped up first time round, but I learnt my lesson and by talking with my local butcher and fishmonger since I have expressed my #wastefree intentions and from now on will only have my meat wrapped in paper which can, in small amounts, be used shredded into my compost bin. I also learnt that plastic lasts forever. I was shocked to read that, apart from a very small portion that has been incinerated, every piece of plastic we have ever used is still on the planet today. I don’t know about you but I just had a flash back of all the packed lunches and convenience food I have consumed in my life time! All of which was either wrapped or packaged with plastic.
NB: In hosting a Give a Fork! event the hardest thing for me was keeping my focus on simple cooking, I am a flamboyant cook and love to create elaborate feasts for friends, which I could defiantly do waste free, but it would require more practise, growing my own, better contact with local producers and good old-fashinoned planning. So if you’re just starting out I suggest thinking easy & simple cooking, buying in season for the best flavour and celebration of fresh ingredients, and cooking only what you can eat. Good place to start!
In summary: WATCH this short Documentary “WASTE DEEP” by The Sustainable Table, it puts the issue in motion for you.
Food and packaging waste is not simply something that ‘goes away’ when we pop it in the rubbish bin for collection by our garbos. Waste has an insidious, long-term impact on our environment, our wildlife and ultimately our own health. But how do we avoid it? In an age of excess consumption and a mindset of convenience-at-all-cost, is it possible to truly be waste free?
Delve into the world of waste and zero waste living with our online short documentary, Waste Deep. To learn more visit our site sustainabletable.org.au. – The Sustainable Table
Need more know-how and a step-by-step guide? Then the best thing you can do to continue your #wastefree crusade is to buy the Sustainable Table’s e-book, full of wisdom & sense, makes a great e-present!
Take home message
FROM: Farm to Face
We live in a world of convenience and because of this we have lost touch with just how inconvenient waste can be to the environment and future generations. But it’s not all doomsday, we can MAKE GOOD CHOICES today that will soon turn into good-habits, then with a bit of persistence we can pass the habits of reusing, recycling and repurposing onto future generations who will reap the benefits of our actions.
The feast in all its glory!
THANKYOU to everyone who is involved with the Give a Fork campaign, a special shout out to the whole team at The Sustainable Table and the many other supporters of the waste-free message.
We would love to know if you learnt something from this article, want to know more or have you own #wastefree habits in motion! Tag us @farmtoface in a Tweet, Instagram post or on Facebook so we don’t miss your story.
Hugs and Nonsense,