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Waste watchers: December 2012

posted Jan 4, 2013, 2:09 PM by Dinner Lady   [ updated Jan 4, 2013, 2:10 PM ]
We are sat chomping our obligatory post meal fruit. I notice that Maths Geek has finished his satsuma and is now chomping through the peel.  I stare at him and raise an eyebrow when he catches my eye.

"I've started eating satsuma peel. It's very Dinner Lady", he tells me earnestly.

I raise my other eyebrow and probe gently, wondering what being "very Dinner Lady" means.  

"It means we eat everything. We don't waste anything at all".  

I feel proud that my rebellious son, who doesn't like listening to instructions and who starts most replies with the "But Muuuuum" whine, has obviously taken on board one of the main thrusts of our Four and a half bellies challenge.  I am also slightly worried about his insides. While I know we can eat orange peel in the form of marmalade, and remember that the outside of kumquats are far tastier than the sour inside, what is the deal with the satsuma peel?  I don't know and I haven't got time to ask the all knowing Mr or Ms Google so I tell him that things haven't got that bad yet and clear the table, offering him some yoghurt given he is obviously still hungry. 

If not wasting food is "very Dinner Lady" then we Four and a half bellies have been most un Lady-like this month. There are several reasons for this: diplomacy, seasonal hazards, and illness. I shall explain.

For those of you who have read the blog from the beginning, you will know that I am prone to unexpected bouts of joint and tendon inflammation, the exact cause of which is still unknown, the effect of which is inconvenience for all who know me. In mid-November I was back on the crutches for the next 6 weeks, advised to rest as much as possible, and so I passed on the responsibility of shopping, cooking and clearing away to Mrs Doubtfire, Nanny Poppins, the freezer (which luckily was stocked with many homemade meals) and any other kind hearted friend or family member who offered to help.  I tried to contribute whenever I could, sitting at the table and chopping veg that I was passed, but the kitchen was certainly no longer my domain. And inevitably things slipped. Food that had been carefully saved by Mrs Doubtfire or Nanny Poppins turned up in tupperware at the back of the fridge and no one quite knew who had put it there or how long ago. 

So over the course of December left over pots of boiled pasta were flung in the bin, pieces of fruit would squish in our hands when we picked them up and the bottom of the salad crisper sometimes resembled a green sludgy swamp.  A whole vat of gammon stock was poured away because everyone had thought someone else had put it in the fridge and had washed up the pot - a few days later we made a grim and whiffy discovery to the contrary. And I managed to bite my tongue, because everyone was trying their hardest to get through a really difficult month. In the name of diplomacy, I said nothing about the amount we were wasting.  And every time something ended up in the bin, I said a silent prayer to the global warming monster, promising to do better as soon as I was on my feet again. 

By the beginning of the Christmas holidays I was relatively fit and able and got set to cook the main event for all of Mrs Doubtfire's side of the family. This in itself led to an excess amount of food waste over the festive period.  Us and the rest of the country, buying more food than we should, "just in case".....the shops forget to open on Boxing day..."just in case"....we get stuck at home following a freak snow storm or flash floods ....."just in case".....unexpected friends and family decided to pop in and wish us well.  Oh who are we kidding? At this time of year the food shopper, who is likely to be in a carefree spirit anyway, is lured by the seductively packaged produce, taken in by their promises of the perfect family Christmas.   Desiring and aspiring to a scene reminiscent of the end of It's a Wonderful Life, we buy more than we need, more than we should. 

And then just as Mrs Doubtfire lugged in the last of the meat (30 chipolatas, 30 rashers of bacon, eight pounds of poultry and a 30cm pork, stilton and apple pie) from our friendly butchers, catering disaster struck: we were suddenly halved in number because of family illness.  Inevitably, there was much food waste. 

So whilst reducing the amount of food waste is really important at Four and a half bellies HQ, we have failed dismally this month.   So much so that I slowly began to desensitise to it all with every precious morsel of discarded food that was scraped into the black bin liner.  At times I even shrugged my shoulders at Mrs Doubtfire, wondering "What else is there to do?".  

Am I making excuses? Probably. Should we do better? Certainly.  Will you help me? I hope so.  

For every food item that we throw away we waste our own hard earned money. There are  more and more articles in newspapers about families like us, who in years gone by got away without food budgets but in this period of unemployment, frozen salaries and spiralling food and energy bills, are beginning to count the pennies at the supermarket checkout.  Yet it is crazy to be counting the pennies carefully at the till whilst throwing the same pennies away again when the food goes off simply because we have bought too much, not conserved it properly, had eyes too large for our bellies or simply mis-managed the contents of our food stores.  We are told time and again the value of the food we throw away (a couple of hundred pounds a year per household) and yet many families, including ours, still do this.  

What's more the food we waste is wasted energy, when you think about the carbon emissions that have been spent producing the food and then transporting it to our kitchens.  And if we don't throw our food waste into compost heaps or other nifty ways to help break down the biodegradable matter, the methane gases that collect in the black bin liners we use to hide our shameful excesses contribute significantly to global warming: according to an article in the Food Ethics Council, food waste may contribute to up to 5% of the total UK greenhouse gas emissions.  

The festive period is a time for giving; a time for thinking about and loving our family, friends and neighbours. Yet in our relatively affluent society we are surely not thinking about and looking after our global family if we are happy to over indulge while our cousins in neighbouring continents continue to go without.  

The New Year is a time for thinking ahead and promising to do better. And so as we bravely enter 2013 we invite you to join the Four and a half bellies in a new anti food-waste campaign, Waste Watchers: the more you save, the more you save.  As a family we are determined to do better at reducing the amount of food we throw away.  Many ethical food choices have pros or cons.  Organic may protect agricultural land from feared poisons like pesticides and herbicides yet in trying to feed the billions would have to further encroach on natural areas.  And organic is costly, not an option for most families.  Other ethical food choices result in taking a leap of faith in those providing our food: we may feel virtuous about the relatively few miles our courgette travelled last week in our local farm vegetable box delivery, but in December I am wondering how they were grown with carbon efficiency.   Yet I have not heard of or read any benefit of wasting one of our most valuable resources, our food.  Given we householders are the worst culprits, accounting for nearly 50% of total UK food and drink waste, according to Love Food Hate Waste, this is something we can take direct control of. So, if you want to join the Waste Watchers Challenge, "Like" it, tweet about it, shout about it but most of all read, join in and feedback as we start eight weeks of Waste Watchers: the more you save, the more you save.  And we promise you, there is no mandatory satsuma peel eating involved. 
  An invitation to join....

Waste watchers: the more you save, the more you save

Waste watchers is about gradually reducing the amount of food waste we put in our bins. By slowly developing better habits, we are more likely to sustain them in the long term. And if we work together with others we are more likely to succeed. This is what we Four and a half bellies are going to do - join us if you dare! 

1.  Sign up a member of the family to be the person to nag, monitor and reward. In our case it will be Maths Geek and The Noble Knight as they are pedantic beyond belief and crusade for saving our planet (and saving a few pennies for a few extra treats for them!). Just like most children.

2.  Each week focus on one way of reducing food waste from the list below. I'll be posting weekly to tell you what we are going to concentrate on and how much food and money we are saving. Share our focus or chose your own but email us to let us know how you're doing! 

3.  Every time a food item is saved from being consigned to the bin (e.g. I trawled to the back of the fridge, found half a carton of cream which was about to go off but put it in a pasta sauce instead of the bin) we will save some money in a pot.  If you're doing this too, save what you think you can afford, it might be as little as 10p or a whopping £5. We're going to start with 50p per food save.  As a family decide what you will spend your food savings on (e.g. charity, a yummy meal out, a family outing, a luxury food item).

4.  Celebrate each week by "liking" us, tweeting your best food saves and emailing in to tell us how much you have been saving. Don't forget to share any good tips. 

Weekly focus

Week 1 Feeling Fresh Week - don’t throw any fresh fruit or vegetables away

Week 2 I Cooked Just Enough Week - cook smaller quantities of pasta, rice and potatoes so there aren't so many pots of left overs lying around

Week 3 Left Overs Week - if you do cook too much reuse your left overs in imaginative (or otherwise) ways so none get thrown in the bin


Week 4 Clean Plates Week  - don't throw any food from the plate to the bin .  This is probably best done by serving smaller portions in the first place (with plenty more in the pot should people want more, of course!)

Week 5 Spring Clean Week - Do a freezer/ fridge or store cupboard spring clean and make meals out of what’s there rather than buy lots of new food 

Week 6 Good Storage Week - don't throw anything away just because it's gone off because of poor storage

Week 7 Little and often week - buy just what you need to eat over the next few days/ weeks

Week 8 Peel and core week - what can you do with your apple, carrot and potato peelings instead of throwing them in the bin?

Click here to read what the Four and a half bellies are going to be doing each week.  

Favourite meals of the month

Dinner Lady: In the bygone years when we had all day to shop and cook for dinner parties (i.e. prechildren) I used to make a lovely Tarte Tatin. I am not a baker, yet it doesn’t really matter how messy this looks before cooking - the baking ‘melts’ the apples and it always seems to look amazing when turned onto a pretty serving plate.  And if it does look slightly rough around the edges then at least it proves that it is homemade! We enjoyed the first tarte tatin I have cooked for over seven years this month - not sure why. Perhaps I just missed it. 

Mrs Doubtfire: We ate a delicious and luxurious fish pie our traditional Christmas Eve meal.  It is comforting yet adventurous, looking for buried treasure (prawns and hard boiled eggs) amongst the fish, the potato and white sauce.  

Maths Geek: Maths Geek requested Magic Oranges for our Christmas meal dessert - it was a healthy and fresh antidote to Christmas pudding and I am glad we obliged.  

The Noble Knight: Macaroni cheese: “I am a pasta monster and I am a cheese monster”.  How could macaroni fail to disappoint. It is probably the only meal that TNK eats without starting by saying “Oh but I HATE this”.

Princess Baby: In the last few weeks Princess Baby has been eating anything and everything she could get her hands on.  She had been ill off and on for about a month, refusing most food apart from baked beans (a cold had ended with an ear infection it turned out).  After a hefty dose of antibiotics, she and her lovely protruding belly are back on form.  But her favourite must have been Babe pie, made using a very small left over chunk of our Boxing Day gammon, and padded out with carrot and courgette. It was topped with left over mashed potatoes from the Christmas roast. 

Click here for other festive December dishes

Pictures: 1. Magic oranges, our healthy Xmas meal pudding, requested by Maths Geek (served alongside rich chocolate pavlova, of course); 2. Very home made looking tarte tatin