Reducing Food Waste: Tradition, Not Trend

In 2018, we see the issue of food waste making headlines almost daily. Although there is still work to be done in building awareness and teaching food waste reduction skills, this topic has been receiving far more attention lately than in previous years.

However, there is one industry that seems to have preceded recent trends. The restaurant industry, as well as regional cuisines, have historically been based on efforts to reduce food waste. And both seem to have similar motivations.

First, let’s consider the restaurant industry. It’s no secret that restaurants are well-known for their narrow profit margins and extensive competition. For this reason, restaurants and chefs have been quick to prevent food waste in their domains. It couldn’t be clearer in this context: wasting food is equivalent to wasting money, shrinking profits and reduced competitive edge. From this culture of thrift, we see the emergence of creative and tasty dishes featuring ingredients recreated in novel and surprising ways. And to think, we pay good money for these food scraps!

To a greater extent, regional and then national cuisines have long served to absorb and re-imagine by-products from the food chain. Many great cuisines are built on using leftovers, eating with the seasons, saving money and cooking with scraps. Thriftiness, it seems, has traditionally been the foundation of many great cuisines.

If not for thriftiness, how might the British have come up with the traditional “bubble and squeak” meal? For those unfamiliar with this dish, it is made from potatoes, cabbage and leftover vegetables typically originating from a roast dinner. Combined and fried, this is a tasty and traditional way to use up leftovers.

In fact, many countries have their own version of this British staple. Although they are found under different and increasingly difficult to pronounce names (rumbledethumps from Scotland, anyone?), these dishes are similar in both their ingredients as well as their quick and simple preparation steps.

For centuries, out of both necessity and sometimes desperation, our ancestors have come up with creative ways to re-imagine food. Today, we give these cooking techniques trendy and catchy names like “nose-to-tail” or “root-to-fruit” cooking. However, historically these methods have been simply known as “cooking” and were seen everywhere, not just in restaurants.

So, for both restaurants and cuisine, reducing food waste seems to be more of a tradition, rather than a trend.

To learn more about creative leftover ideas and how to make bubble and squeak at home, visit the love food hate waste UK website: https://www.lovefoodhatewaste.com/recipe/bubble-and-squeak

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How and Why We Let our Leftovers “Mature”

Have you ever opened up your fridge, looking for something to eat, and noticed a forgotten container of mysterious leftovers? Curious as to what it might be, you take it out, hold it up to the light and decide whether or not it might still be edible. The jury’s out, it’s probably still tasty but the fact that you forgot about it and the contents are difficult to identify probably doesn’t make it very appetizing. Instead of either peeling back the Tupperware lid or else throwing it away, you simply place it back on the shelf in the fridge. It’s probably still fine to eat, so you don’t want to throw it away. For now though, it will remain on the shelf and you’ll find something else to eat.

A week later, you stumble upon the container again. Okay, NOW it’s definitely not safe to eat so you can throw it away more or less guilt-free.

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Many of us practice the habit known in the academic literature as the “Maturation Effect”. This is described as the practice of placing leftovers in the fridge in order to delay any uncomfortable feelings associated with wasting it immediately. Instead, the leftovers are left to “mature”, only to be thrown out a few days later when they are no longer good. By letting the food go bad, we successfully manipulate the food in a way that it suddenly becomes “OK” to throw out (Hebrok & Boks, 2017).

It is natural to avoid feelings of guilt and discomfort. We don’t waste food on purpose and organizing a household budget, balancing different taste preferences and accommodating meals to busy schedules can be challenging. In this case, it is interesting to observe the utilization of time as a way of ridding ourselves of responsibility.

What is the solution? Don’t be afraid of your leftovers. Use best practices when it comes to determining food safety but try and get creative with repurposing your leftovers into different dishes. Not only can it save time but it will also save room in the refrigerator and ultimately, reduce food waste.

References

Hebrok, M., & Boks, C. (2017). Household food waste: Drivers and potential intervention points for design – An extensive review. Journal of Cleaner Production, 151, 380–392. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2017.03.069