Sustainable Gastronomy Day: 8 ways to reduce food waste

We love food. It is our fuel and passion. We experiment with food. Cooking is a necessity and for some, a meditative practice. Creating food is also an opportunity for experimentation for some. Food is also the universally spoken language united cultures and traditions across the globe. We spend hours everyday cooking, buying, planning, and arranging dishes for our consumption. It was, perhaps, this thought process that lead to United Nations General Assembly to dedicate an entire day devoted to celebrating gastronomy. To commemorate Sustainable Gastronomy Day (June 18th), we couldn’t think of a better way than to chart down eight simple ways to go sustainable in the kitchen.  

1. Shop locally: In the globalized world of today, commodities are increasingly crossing national and international borders. We can literally order foreign cuisine at our doorstop. Technology has powered multitudes of grocery delivering services. However, these services do not inform consumers about the increased carbon footprint as a consequence of the extra transport of produce located away from the consumers. Moreover, buying food locally, promotes local farming and supports local economy. This is tantamount to making communities sustainable. 

2. Eat seasonal vegetables and fruits: Most of the inhabitants of urban cities and towns are global citizens of today. We are busy, on-the-go, floating population. Our habits, as a result, are more and more erratic. Take-out food, ordering in and few standardized preparations of cooks make up for our meals. We know little about the local produce, of seasonal vegetables, of fruits and their pesticide-laden flavors. However, this was not always the case. Our predecessors were adept at changing their palette according to the season and crop productions. Experiment with seasonal vegetables to expand your food palette to be more inclusive of locally available nutritious food. 

For instance, Pointed guard (Hindi: Parval) is commonly eaten in Mumbai. A type of Palm fruit, Targola or Ice Apple is an interesting fruit, available in Mumbai. Bael, Wood apple is another interesting food we consumed as kids as a juice. In fact, India is second largest producers of fruits in the world. Courtesy the rich variety of weather conditions, suitable topography and proximity to Himalayan bounty, we are one of the luckiest few to have been bestowed with nature’s gift. 

3. Take your own container for takeout food: Disposable plastics can leach carcinogenic agents into your food. In a recent waste audit activity, we found that the black colored single-use plastic containers have really low rates of recycling. The convenience is inarguable but what cost, is the choice you are responsible for making. As far as sustainability is concerned, our seas have been found to contain plastics from as far back as the early 1950’s. Is this the heritage we want to leave behind?  

4. Plan your meal: We all have cravings of certain flavors and dishes. While controlling it is not always possible, having a chart panned out before the start of a week helps save many hours of struggling in the kitchen. Buy your groceries over the weekend and if need be, twice in the week. Simultaneously, chart down the preparations you can make with what is available.  Two, keep in mind the shelf life of your grocery items while making a purchase. For instance: banana would only stay fresh for 2-3 days while Apples could last a week. Similarly, if you like making salads, ensure you don’t overstock the vegetables and keep a balance of protein and fiber according to the cooking plan so it is eaten while still fresh. 

“To me, it’s sort of funny that wasting food is not taboo. It’s one of the last environmental ills that you can just get away with.” – Jonathan Bloom (@WastedFood)

 5. De-clutter regularly: Given the erratic nature of our schedules and unpredictability of moods, decluttering sometimes never figures in the routine. All it takes is ten minutes a day to go through the contents of your refrigerator. The idea is to circulate food depending on their freshness. Basically ensuring the freshest is at the back and the least fresh is in the front, closest to the eye. This would ensure food gets consumed before it gets soiled. 

6. Experiment with cooking: This one is my favorite! Even as a amateur cook, I find that there is nothing called “waste”. We all have refrigerators. A little bit of methodical approach and openness to experimenting with flavors is all that is needed.  Have leftover sandwich filling? Or cooked rice? Or chappatis (Indian bread) from dinner? Reuse these into making breakfast more interesting. Look up recipes that could use your specific leftover to create new meals. 

7. Check expiration dates: This is a simple shopping etiquette. Shopkeepers and especially the bigger grocery sellers and marts have a tendency to place items closer to expiration dates in the front. This might be a good idea for them to save their stuff from losing its freshness, unless your plan is to cook the ingredients within a month or week’s time (depending upon the item’s shelf life), it is advisable to check expiration dates before making a purchase. 

8. Donate: Give away the food items you know you are not going to consume to those in need. India has the second largest population of starved people in the world. With all its bounty, this is extremely unfortunate. Connect with a local non-profit who feeds the poor or form a small circle of sustainability ehthusiasts in your community. Because when it comes to food, nothing should go to waste

Image: Arpita Bhagat  

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