from one generation to the next
The article below is from the “epicure” lift out in today’s newspaper “the Age” October 23rd 2012.
It’s a timely reminder that we could all be more mindful as we shop, as we cook, and as we dispose of food and ingredients. It focuses on the financial cost to households and society, but there is a twin cost, and that is to the environment, not only from the landfill created, but the land tied up in production plus the processing, packaging and marketing impacts.
GO AND BIN NO MORE
Most people know when they shouldn’t eat an egg. It lets them know with a smell that makes many people retch. Yet English food-waste campaigner Richard Fox is always shocked to see eggs thrown out because the carton’s use-by date has passed.
”My test? Crack it open. You’ll know whether it’s off or OK. You don’t need a date for that,” says Fox, a chef, beer-brewing guru and television presenter who’s visiting Australia for the Crave Sydney International Food Festival as an ambassador for OzHarvest, the food rescue group.
The founder of OzHarvest, Ronni Kahn, met Fox at a food festival in Adelaide this year and was struck by the similarities of their aims and messages. Next month, OzHarvest releases a cookbook using leftovers in recipes from some of Australia’s finest chefs, including Neil Perry, Matt Moran and Maggie Beer.
”Richard Fox is a champion of using leftovers, so we wanted him to come and share his knowledge, passion and creativity to inspire Australian families,” Kahn says.
One of Fox’s big bugbears is use-by dates. ”Best-before dates must be one of the major causes of food waste around the world,” he says.
In Australia, packaged foods with a shelf life of less than two years must have a use-by or best-before date stamped on them. It’s a benchmark of quality rather than an indication they have spoilt, and manufacturers tend to be cautious. Fresh food can last beyond its use-by date, too, but it’s illegal to sell it past that date.
Fox says we’ve become overcautious. ”Our grandparents had no such things as best-before [or] use-by dates. People are no longer encouraged to use their senses. We live in an oversanitised environment and common sense doesn’t prevail any more. If you buy food at a market, it doesn’t come with a date. It’s completely nonsensical and encourages people to throw food away before they need to.” Part of the problem, he says, is ”the fact that we live in a disposable society”.
As co-star of the TV series Men Brewing Badly, one statistic really upsets him: ”Every day in the UK, 3000 unopened bottles and cans of beer are thrown away, probably because they are past the expiry date.” (If you don’t want to drink old beer, Australian thrift expert Shannon Lush says it can be used to wash your hair, as a meat tenderiser, fertiliser for ferns and mosses or slug bait.)
Fox’s growing outrage about the amount of still-edible food wasted – Britain wastes 7.2 million tonnes of food and drink from homes annually, at a cost of £12 billion ($18.7 billion) – turned him into a champion for leftovers for Britain’s Love Food Hate Waste campaign. ”That figure doesn’t include the environmental cost of food waste, including landfill,” he says.
In Australia, where more than 3.2 million tonnes of food goes to landfill annually, an estimated 47 per cent of municipal waste is food and green waste. As a result, food waste in landfill is the country’s second-largest source of the greenhouse gas methane.
Fox’s latest book, How to Be an Everyday Kitchen Magician – Fabulous Food for Almost Free, is all about using ingredients at the back of the fridge or cupboard. He turns a cold leftover sausage, cheddar crust, bendy zucchini and withered mushrooms into risotto in 20 minutes.
”I was as guilty as anyone else of wasting food at home, despite 20 years as a professional chef, where we’re trained not to waste anything,” he says. ”Now I find myself being much more imaginative.”
Concerns about food waste led former restaurateur Kahn to start OzHarvest in Sydney almost eight years ago. Since then, volunteers have rescued 5100 tonnes of food from restaurants, supermarkets and caterers, redistributing it to frontline agencies feeding those in need.
A 2005 report by The Australia Institute, Wasteful Consumption in Australia, identifies food as the nation’s biggest area of waste. An estimated $5.3 billion worth of food was thrown away in 2004, more than half of it fresh food. Since then, it has climbed to $7.8 billion.
A 2009 study for the NSW government’s Love Food Hate Waste program estimated the state’s annual figure was $2.5 billion, costing households a little more than $1000 each, or $19.90 a week.
Last week, Anglicare released a report, When There’s Not Enough to Eat, looking at the social cost of food insecurity, to coincide with World Food Day. The research estimates 45,000 households using Anglicare emergency services don’t have enough money to feed their families adequately, and most weeks, adults in 22,000 households go without food for a whole day. Almost one in 10 households report that children regularly do not eat for a whole day. Parents avoid sending their children to school because they can’t provide lunch for them.
Kahn has seen it, too. ”In February this year, we had 14 agencies call us and ask for help with breakfast because children are going to school without it,” she says. ”Last year, I didn’t even have two needing help.”
The founder of Slow Food, Carlo Petrini, observed during his 2009 visit to Australia, ”The refrigerator was invented to preserve food; now it is just a step on the way to the rubbish bin.” He labelled it a tomb where food was buried, rather than preserved.
Kahn gives stark examples. ”Last week we collected 270 lamb legs. Meanwhile, an orange producer called to say the market price was so low he’d lose money picking the fruit. Rather than letting it rot, he offered them to us. Volunteers picked 3.2 tonnes, which we sent to people who needed it. We have the capacity to go and save that fruit. If producers face similar difficulties, please call us, because we love rising to that challenge.”
But Kahn adds that OzHarvest retrieves produce from commercial premises only. ”We’re not touching what individual households waste, so it’s up to us all to change our habits at home.”
If Fox has one tip for people grappling with their leftovers, it’s ”cook, chill, freeze and reheat – it’s a simple concept taken for granted in the food industry, but not really utilised at home”. He says, ”If something’s about to go off, cook it and freeze it to use later on.
”There are plenty of ways to preserve food without refrigeration, such as old-fashioned pickling.”
Fox says throwing out food is like finding coins down the back of the lounge and putting them straight in the bin.
”Would anyone do that? Then why throw out food you’ve paid for? People do it without even thinking about it. We need to start thinking about food as money.”
The OzHarvest Cookbook, $59.95, is available from mid-November directly from ozharvest.org, or from selected David Jones and Dymocks stores nationally.
Richard Fox’s five tips to reduce food waste
1. Plan meals using what you already have. Start by looking in the cupboard, fridge and freezer and deciding whether you can make a meal from it. If you shop, stick to the plan rather than impulse-buying extra food.
2. Fresh herbs such as parsley, coriander, basil, dill and chives last up to 10 times longer wrapped in dampened kitchen paper and cling film when stored in the fridge. Meanwhile, don’t throw away dried herbs and spices past their best-before date. Just add more to compensate for reduced aroma or flavour.
3. Salad in bags stays fresher for longer if it’s removed from the bag and stored in the fridge in an airtight container or bowl with a damp kitchen towel or cloth laid across the top of the leaves.
4. Small quantities of cooked leftovers such as broccoli, tinned fish, peas and potato, can be combined and reused to make a new dish such as fish cakes. Use old tomatoes in a pasta sauce.
5. Store carefully. Most foods can be frozen for another time, and you can always freeze right up to the use-by date (when you need it, just defrost overnight in the fridge and use within 24 hours). Vegetables are at their best for longer stored in the fridge (except potatoes and onions).
Richard Fox demonstrates recipes at “Loving Leftovers with OzHarvest” tonight, 6-8pm, at Kitchen by Mike, 85 Dunning Avenue, Rosebery, as part of the Crave Sydney International Food Festival. Tickets cost $80, with the proceeds going to OzHarvest. For tickets, call 9516 3877. Fox will also appear at Fresh from the West on Sunday at Western Sydney Parklands. Entry is free. See cravesydney.com.