As Aussies, there’s no question we’ve hit the jackpot when it comes to our access to food. For most of us, our Christmas or Hanukkah feasts will be tables of plenty. Myriad fruit and vegetable varieties thrive in our fertile land. Meat is one of our biggest commodities. Dairy farming flourishes in many states and our land is girt by sea, swimming with succulent seafood and fish. Could this superfluity explain away the $8 billion worth of edible food we waste every year?
The Christmas period is when most of this wasted food ends up in the bin. Research conducted by KitchenAid has revealed that nine in 10 Aussies usually discard more than 25 per cent of their food during the festive period (December 1 through to January 1).
As the silly season approaches, garbage bins across the nation are filling up with edible food. The same research shows that last Christmas, eight in ten Australians spent time in the kitchen cooking a meal from scratch and three-quarters spent up to $250 on food for Christmas Day alone. But despite all our precious time and dollars, the majority of the population (95 per cent) acknowledged they had leftovers. Sadly, most of those leftovers and other purchased food ended up in landfill. Why? According to research conducted by the NSW Government:
• we cook too much food
• we don’t check the pantry or fridge before going shopping
• we buy takeaway instead of using the food in our kitchen
• we mistakenly throw food away before the use-by date
• we don’t stick to the shopping list (and shop while we’re hungry!)
• we don’t know how to use leftovers
Despite many consumers adopting earnest attempts to avoid over-indulgence, the festive season still engenders a propensity to embrace excess. So how can we avoid buying and preparing surplus food on Christmas Day and in the bookended holiday seasons?
Farmer, and former chef and food critic, Matthew Evans believes it’s all in the planning. "Know exactly what you’re going to serve at each occasion, only buy enough for the people you’re inviting, and have a plan for leftovers.”
As well as the sheer waste of throwing away food, there’s also the unspoken environmental impact of this waste. When food rots in landfill, it creates a greenhouse gas called methane, which is 25 times more potent than the carbon pollution that comes from your car exhaust.
Could this lack of awareness be addressed by food education in school curriculums? Matthew Evans strongly agrees: “I’d love to see food waste as part of the conversation about what we eat, and where better to start than with young minds and less fixed habits? Wasted food is more than just wasted food. It’s an insult to the farmers, harmful to the environment, and disrespectful to the animals we kill if we don’t use things as wisely as we can.”
We’re all guilty of throwing away completely edible food, so why not start changing our habits to start living and eating more thoughtfully? Put your thrifty hat on and take these tips this festive season – the planet, your wallet and your soul will pay you back tenfold.
Not all fresh food is created equal
The bulk of our wasted food is of the fresh variety, $2.67 billion to be exact. “The problem with some fresh food is it isn’t all that fresh,” reveals Matthew Evans. He recommends buying from the grower for longer shelf life, storing herbs and soft leaves in plastic bags with paper towels to stop them from going rotten so quickly, and minimising the time fresh food is out of the fridge.
Grow your own
“Growing your own is the best way to know it’s fresh, to be able to get it regularly, even during holiday times,” says Matthew. “Home-grown food means you know how much work, water and time have gone into every little thing, and you’ll value it more because of it.”
Blend it up
OzHarvest is one of Australia’s largest food rescue organisations. Its Executive Head Chef, Travis Harvey, is attempting to save food from perishing in homes at Christmas, as well as in businesses, by recommending we use our blender to make magic out of festive leftovers. How? Chop up fruit, (including on-the-turn bananas) and freeze to use in smoothies. Blend leftover roast veggies with ricotta, lemon juice and garlic for a flavourful dip. Toast stale bread then blend it with herbs and parmesan to make a crunchy topping for fresh pasta.
Making nuanced changes to storage methods can make a big difference to the life of your food, especially when you’re stocking up at Christmas. Matthew says, “Most foods like to be covered in the fridge; strawberries, leafy greens, carrots, all go soft very quickly if not covered. Use freezer bags, plastic film or a damp tea towel.
“Keep cheese in an airtight container with absorbent paper towel, and open daily to refresh the air within.
“For meats and seafood, change the tray daily. The juices under the meat and fish fester quicker than the meat itself. Store both in the bottom of the fridge – it’s the coldest part of the fridge. For seafood, place a few ice cubes on top each day to keep it in the best condition possible. But really, buy to eat, not to store."
In a pickle
Before excess fruit and vegetables turn, make a pickle out of them – they add a wonderfully acidic punch to glazed ham especially. Head here for pickle inspiration from our collection of pickle recipes.
Some pickles - like these quick pickled onions - take only 10-15 minutes of work to create a delicious addition to sandwiches and salads.
And follow the lead of Sydney business Cornersmith – its two cafes, picklery and cooking school espouse ethical food production, sustainable business practices and community engagement, and above all, minimal waste. Follow Cornersmth Sydney chef Sabine Spindler’s Instagram account – @wastewarrior - for inspiration. A self-declared waste warrior, Sabine is on a mission to “consciously reduce food waste by turning it into deliciousness”.
Let leftovers live
There are so many ways to bring new life to your leftover food. Use these recipe ideas to let them live another day:
Give it away
If there’s still life in your non-perishable food goods, donate them to the 100,000 Australians who go hungry, a quarter of whom are children. Head to the local office of one of these charities: The Salvation Army, The Exodus Foundation, Foodbank, Southcare (WA), or Wesley Mission Victoria.
If you’re after an adorably delicious way to use up leftover Christmas pudding, you simply can’t go past these icy poles.
One of my favourite spring classics is pizza rustica, a savoury pie. It's made with ricotta, pecorino, eggs and silverbeet.
This tart is an impressive one – the combination of roasted pumpkin and tomatoes, Persian feta and a parmesan shortcrust pastry base makes it a great one to serve when entertaining. The best thing, though, is that it's surprisingly simple to put together.