How to save food - beginner's guide
Nobody ever plans to waste food, that’s for sure! Who’s to blame then? Usually lack of time to cook or eat, maybe laziness or exhaustion that causes us to decide against cooking and dine out instead…or perhaps a bit of greed when buying just a little bit too much. Whatever the reasons (or excuses) might be, one thing is certain – we all need to try our best not to waste food …or make it last longer. Here are some tips & ideas that might motivate you to fight your food waste.
1. Work on your habits
Overbuying is the number one reason we waste food. Going shopping with a shopping list doesn’t usually do it. Why? We get inspired by seasonal produce we just saw the first time after winter, we surrender to multiple special offer temptations or we listen to our see-it-want-it cravings. Watching your shopping cart is essential!
What works best for me, for instance, is not only to have a rough meal-plan and a shopping list based on it but first and foremost – a limited space to pack it all for transportation. Consider the things you plan to buy and try to imagine the space it all takes. Grab a bag that fits all that and watch your cart while shopping. Cause one thing you don’t wanna do is carry it all stuffed in your pockets, overloaded with crap, sweating like crazy and looking like a fool 🙂 BUT! This WILL NOT work if you ever buy paper bags, though…For me, personally, that’s not even an option so if I can’t fit my shopping in the bag I took – I just don’t buy it at all.
This ‘limitation rule’ can be turned into a monetary one (assessing how much you wanna spend and sticking to your budget) or spatial (knowing your favorite (super)market you only visit the aisles that have what you need – no walking around ‘just to see what’s there).
2. Store well
If you ever worked in hospitality you must be familiar with the FIFO rule. First In, First Out is a food rotation & organization system, according to which everything that came to your kitchen first, should be used/eaten first. To enable you (and people you live with) to apply the rule easily the foods should be placed in a specific manner. If you bought two yoghurts, even though you still have one at home, you store the new ones behind the ‘old’ – as you’ll naturally pick the one closest to you. Sounds obvious? Maybe, but there’s a bunch of people that don’t obey the FIFO rule.
Smart storage is not only about where you keep the products but also HOW. Your greens, for instance, would do way better when transferred from whatever they came in (supermarket-bought lettuce mixes, spinach etc. usually come in plastic) to a tupperware, covered with a mesh cloth or a kitchen towel and closed with a lid. Same goes to some of your herbs when wrapped in a kitchen towel or your dried fruits and grains when put in a tightly closed container. When you wash fresh produce or what other produce you store it with makes a difference too!
Invest some time in reading about it and it will save you money in the long run. To help you start, go to this article.
3. Sneak it!
Anticipate any food spoilage and make use of it before it dies. Center your dishes around what’s in your fridge or sneak those products into your meal plan! Carrots starting to look a little sad? Sneak them in your stew, soup or salad even though you didn’t plan to; eat with your hummus or juice them! Fruits about to rot? Add to smoothies, shakes, snacks, salads and juices. Lettuce or cabbage slowly losing their crunch? Cut them and use them as naturally gluten free noodles to go with a soup…might sound unattractive, but it’s efficient, and there’s always a way.
Make use of your soon-to-be-dead fresh produce beyond the kitchen area. We’re talking banana hair mask, cucumber paste face mask, lemon juice hair highlighter, coffee grounds peeling, watermelon massage scrub, pigment fruits & veggies as natural coloring agents for clothes or art…get creative!
4. Pop it in the freezer
Freezing is one of the most effective ways to save food and oftentimes (consider most fruits) to keep its nutrient content intact:) You’ve probably been bombarded with frozen banana nice cream pictures all over social media, or heard of freezing broths, buns, stews or whole desserts. There’s a lot to know about how to properly freeze and defrost foods, so further readings are highly recommended. Just to make the start easier for you, check out this article.
5. Recycle leftovers
Using leftovers as much as possible tests your patience and creativity but it’s very satisfying and great in combating waste. Couple of ideas? Potato peels turned into crispy fries, vegetable peels for so-called recycled kimchi, growing fruits using their stones, using stale bread to thicken soups and sauces or make breadcrumbs, infusing oils with leftover seeds and herbs, or keeping a bag in the freezer to put any veggie scraps to make a broth with. Perhaps a natural soil fertilizer for your plants? There’s so much we can do!
Now – I don’t really like the kind of less-waste advice that calls for some equipment purchase but this one really changes a lot! A dehydrator, even a small inexpensive one, can be a game-changer in your kitchen…but so can be your oven, if you know how to use it well and can’t get a dehydrator. Drying out stuff that would soon turn bad not only prevents food waste, but gives the product a new life. Dried fruits (like citruses, apples, etc.) are great for garnish and decoration (even Xmas deco); dried vegetables can be used in broths or stews (carrots, beets, onions), dried mushrooms to make your pho with. Dried foods come in handy also in smoking – think cocktails, high-end food presentation, infused foods & beverages. Dried pigment foods (carrots, beets, berries…) can also be powdered – such powders are great to use as coloring agents in cooking, baking or garnishing!
7. Pickle & ferment
Fermented products are now everywhere – kombucha, kimchi, sourdough, tempeh, wine, beer, sauerkraut etc. Pickling is basically preserving foods, making them last way longer than they would normally survive. And pickled can be almost everything!
While yeasts and mold ferments are trickier and require a bit more knowledge, simple bacterial ferments are easy to pull off even for the least-talented home cooks. Quick check: vinegar, salt, sugar, water and favorite spices? If you have those at home, you can get to pickling right away. Experiment, mess up some trials, create new recipes, and use the Internet to inspire you.
If you’re into serious fermentation, consider attending a workshop. If you live in Berlin – check out our kimchi classes, ManuTeeFaktur for kombucha workshop, and the best fermentation baristas in town – Edible Alchemy for water kefir / sourdough / miso classes. They even have an online academy, but be careful as they aren’t fully vegan.
If you ever left an onion long enough to produce greens, you’ve already started your journey to becoming a windowsill gartner. Pretty much most of the veggies we use in Europe can be regrown from the scraps, not to mention the ease with which you can sprout grains. What it takes is love and patience..and a bit of motivation. Start simple – take a look at this short video to inspire you and dig for some more ideas using the good old Google.
Let’s say it happened. You bought / cooked / produced too much. You can’t possibly eat it yourself. Well, sharing is caring innit? Starting with your friends, flatmates, family or co-workers, there’s a bunch of people you can share your food with. Remember this homeless person you always pass by when walking to the U Bahn station? They’d appreciate it a lot. Nobody you can think of? Check out TooGoodToGo app, google the nearest food sharing fridge in your neighbourhood (Foodsharing-“FairTeiler”-Kühlschränke) and contact organizations that exist to help you share your food! More info, for example, here: foodsharing.de
10. Learn from past mistakes & don’t give up
We all mess up at times. Reflect what can be done better next time and begin the cycle again (back to point 1). There’s so much hunger in the world, and yet there’s even more food waste. While it’s the biggest players that have to be put under most scrutiny (fast food chains we see you!), food is wasted in every step of the food supply chain, including the consumer phase – us. So let’s take care of our individual share of it and simply try to do our best and inspire others to do the same.
Thanks for reading! Have other ideas to combat food waste at an individual level? Do tell us! Leave a comment or use social media to communicate <3
About the author
Marika – vegan chef, animal advocate & educator. Professionally: creator of Plant Base & all its food creations, workshops & events, media & design. Privately: book worm, intersectional feminist, dog fanatic, Aquarius. Big on vegan food, even bigger on food for thought. Here to grow, open dialogues & share resources with those who also believe that veganism is only the beginning.