Get cooking and stop chucking
Kathie Auton - 10 January 2013
Half of all food thrown away - that's the news story I woke up to this morning. And yesterday I was reading about children no longer being taught to cook. Children cooking and using up food: two things that obsess my thoughts daily. I want to get on my soapbox today. I want to say 'get cooking and stop chucking', but these are hardly problems that will be solved by foot stamping and opining.
But we should be talking about it and those with influence (unfortunately not me, I could make a big noisy fuss but who'd listen?) should be putting in their two-pennies worth. It does encourage me though, because this is what I do these days - thinking up recipes and ways of making my household's food go further, on less cash, with less waste and still produce decent, healthy home-cooking. So I’ll carry on with my own gentle form of protest.
And while I'm protesting I'll say this on the subject of leftovers. Can we, in the spirit of all great movements for change, reclaim the word? Why is it a negative? Why the connotations of congealed, unappetising fare to be forced down? Leftovers are the finest things in the home kitchen. I said this in my first ever blog post for the Soil Association. Nearly a year on, perhaps it’s time I got T-shirts made. But seriously, why on earth are leftovers seen as a bad thing? And the idea of throwing them away... well, it's just madness.
Let me tell you a secret, one that seems to have been kept from the food-binners out there: leftovers are ready meals. By this I mean, they are already cooked, done, ready. Most of the time they just need a short burst in the microwave to be returned to their former glory. It's like someone's snuck into your house and already made the dinner. What's not to love? Okay some leftovers may need some gentle help to metamorphose them into something delicious, perhaps the potatoes need bubble and squeak-ifying, but how could this be anything other than a delicious pleasure? And soup, there is always soup. Leftovers + stock + water = soup, lovely warming, homemade soup.
Leftovers are at the core of my kitchen. There is very, very little I cook without the express purpose of having leftovers. I cannot boil a potato without thinking forward to fishcakes, I cannot cook pasta without a next-day pasta bake in mind. I make huge shepherd’s pies that can be eaten over several days. And this is because it makes my life easier. Cook once, eat twice.
There are only two arguments I can think of against this: one, the safety of reheating food and two, the lack of variety. I am not an expert but I am pretty sensible. Chill leftovers and reheat once. So if it's a massive shepherd's pie, just reheat what you need and reheat it well. And as far second argument, here I take the view that variety can happen over a month rather than a week and anyone with kids will know that if they like shepherd’s pie they’ll be happy to eat for two or three days in a row, or every day, given the choice.
The report by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers that has spurred these headlines is about much wider issues of food waste, of course. There is the ridiculous waste of resources used to produce food that will never be eaten for a start and the fact that in the UK up to 30% of vegetables crops are never even harvested because they don't look how we expect our veg to look. These are much bigger issues than simply using up what's in our fridge. But it's a matter of attitude. Food is thrown away before we get the chance to buy it because we want perfect looking food and food is chucked away after we've bought it too. Dr Tim Fox, head of energy and environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers said:
"governments, development agencies and organisation like the UN must work together to help change people's mindsets on waste and discourage wasteful practices by farmers, food producers, supermarkets and consumers."
We are the consumers and if we are cavalier with waste in our household, if we expect our apples to be blemish free before we'll buy them, then we're part of the problem too. The brown bin is a good thing, but it should be full of peelings, banana skins and plate-scrapings, not meals. I mean you wouldn’t stuff your cash in it would you?
So if you want to consider squeezing in a last minute resolution this year, perhaps wasting less food would be a good one. The Love Food Hate Waste website is a fantastic resource of ideas and information. We can all get our kitchen soapbox, wearing our 'get cooking and stop chucking' t-shirts and reclaim leftovers as the food-gold that they are. What’s your favourite leftover meal?
Kathie has two young children and is taking a break from teaching to be a full-time mum. She is passionate about cooking and growing good food and takes any opportunity to get her kids involved in the kitchen.