Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Food Waste: Don't Throw That Away!

This is a piece I wrote for Pea Soup magazine, addressing the important issue of food waste in a slightly light-hearted way. Each month the Pea Soup team address a new issue effecting London. If you don't already, follow Pea Soup on Twitter and Like them on Facebook. 

Don't Throw That Away!

In a society that’s so used to eating rubbish, it’s an ironic travesty that so much good food ends up in the bin. With that in mind, here are a few thrifty tips and recipes to help you throw less away. You may even save a few pounds as you save the planet, too...

It doesn’t matter if it’s a £10 artisan loaf, a cob you’ve baked yourself or a bag of sliced white, bread always goes stale. Perhaps it’s Mother Nature’s way of saving energy through toaster usage by doing the job for us? Whatever the reason, there’s certainly no need to throw stale bread away. Slice it into squares and fry in a pan with about a tablespoon of olive oil for crunchy croutons, or find a recipe for bread & butter pudding, bread pudding or toast pudding. If pudding isn’t your thing, why not pretend we’re at war again and that real coffee’s a luxury too far. The solution? Crust Coffee. Seriously.
Buying good quality chicken is expensive. A decent bird will cost upwards of £7, which isn’t far off Soho prices - except these don’t come with free crustaceans. When you’re forking out that much, you want to make sure you get the most out of it. Don’t covet the breasts and discard the rest. If you don’t enjoy sucking the juicy meat off legs and wings like a proper carnivore, flake it into a pie, risotto or curry. Remember, this chicken died so you could eat it – at least have the courtesy to eat all of it. And when you’re done, boil the carcass to make a hearty chicken stock. There’s a handy recipe here, and you could even throw in some of the back-of-the-fridge vegetables that are slightly past their best for extra flavour and extra thrifty points.

Sometimes we get into habits and can’t stop doing things. Many people suffer from the compelling urge to peel every vegetable that passes their eyes. Is it really necessary? The skin is where most of any vegetable’s flavour and nutrients are – they taste better with it on and are better for you, plus they have a much more interesting texture. Adding into the equation that most people would consider vegetable peeling a boring chore, the whole thing starts to look very masochistic. Factor in the incessant wastage involved and it could be concluded that peeling vegetables may actually be akin to evil. Contact your local NHS centre for help quitting.

It’s not just the debris from our dining table that’s wasted. Some products never even make it that far. Take offal, for example. Those brilliant innards-y bits are full of flavour, nutrients and protein and yet are so unpopular that they’re a mere by-product in the meat industry. If not thrown away altogether, the best fate most of these hard working organs face is being pulverised into pet food. They’re “gross”, “disgusting”, “yucky” people may say, but are they really any ‘yuckier’ than the eyeballs, bones, gristle and skin flaps that routinely make it into your average processed sausage or burger? No. They’re not. They’re delicious.

Like a grotty bar that serves cheap drinks, take advantage of their unpopularity and revel in just how little they cost. Tesco and Sainsbury’s currently sell 225g packs of frozen chicken livers for 43p, and local butchers are likely to compete. As they’re by-products and not specially farmed, there’s no real need to worry whether they’re free range or not. For a quick post-pub liver pate, take 1 defrosted tub of chicken livers and place in an oven-proof bowl. Crack in one egg and add a slurp of sherry if you happen to have some open. Season with salt and pepper, some cayenne pepper and some fresh parsley if you have any. Blitz the lot with a hand blender until smooth, and bake for about 20mins until set. Serve with bread, toast or even just a spoon.

Sell-by dates mean nothing unless you’re a shop. It is, as the title suggests, the date by which food should ideally be sold. It is not legally binding, and it is certainly is not the use-by date. This in an entirely different thing, which has scientific health reasons for warning against food beyond a certain age. Dairy products, eggs, meat and fish all have use-by dates and it’s recommended that you stick to them (unless you’re one of those masochistic vegetable peelers and have a thing for vomiting), but fruit and vegetables do not. A use by date refers only to quality not safety, and if you have any two of your five senses intact you’ll be able to tell perfectly well if fruit & veg is going off without the use of a sell-by date.

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