Monday, 14 January 2013

Feeding the world one urban home at a time

A few weeks back my eye was rather caught by this article here about the Future of Food: Can Organic Farming Feed the World from the Small Footprint Family blog. I think it was short after I saw on youtube a documentary made a few years ago about the future of farming here in the UK from the view of a farmer's daughter here in Devon. The underlying point from both were that current farming methods are not sustainable. So it was on my mind for a bit, and then Christmas happened and starting my new business venture, but then the other day I heard on BBC news about the Institute of Mechanical Engineers publishing a report that claims that 30-50% of food produced does not make it to a human stomach. I'll let that settle in. Up to half of all food produced in the world is wasted. In my day job I talk to some vulnerable and often hungry people so this just seems plain wrong to be happening.

I remember being concerned about "green" stuff twenty years ago as a child. I'm pretty sure that "reduce, reuse, recycle" only became common later to wider audiences. Food is a finite source. It takes land, water and oil to produce industrial qualities of food. My personal feeling that I don't care whether we're reached Peak Oil or whether climate change is caused by humans or entirely natural. I do however care that it's doesn't make sense to balance our whole economy on something as finite as oil. I just don't think it makes much sense to keep making more and more of stuff, and that has only been compounded by this report from IME. It's a waste of resources, an insult to the producers, and when it comes to food wasted in the western world it is largely consumers who are to blame. So this is something we can do something about. The report recommends that we put into action what we already know about making good use of food. So here is my advise, tried and tested.

  • Grow your own. Firstly you have control, and secondly you don't. Mother Nature doesn't often make perfect tomatoes and sometimes carrots are funny shapes in the real world too. Growing your own teaches you to be more forgiving when selecting fruit and veg that other people have grown. Buying from local producers is another good way for naturally shaped and appearanced fruit and veg to be given a chance. I'm really lucky. I have a local grocer who sell their own stuff plus a few bits from other people. I can buy unusual varities of apple that look less than perfect but taste fantastic. The next best thing I've seen in the supermarkets is again apples. Tesco and sainsburys seem to use whatever variety is cheap to sell as their cheap range. So don't always buy the beautiful shiny apple (or whatever) when the ugly sister next to it is less wasteful and still tasty. 
  • Only buy what you need or can reasonably use. This was actually high-lighted in the report as they point out that bulk offers from supermarkets often result in bulk waste when stuff goes off. So you know, meal plan. I go to the shops on a saturday, buy what's cheap or on offer, get home and then plan what I'm going to make for the week dependent on what I've bought. Obviously I know I need to buy a few kg of veg and usually about 5kg of meat/fish every week so that helps because that's how these foods are sold. Sometimes I will buy more of something than I know I will use in a week, so when I get home I repack it for the freezer. Simple. I have meat, veg and fruit in my freezer. Rotate what's in your freezer, checking through it every few weeks and include it in your meal plans. The nice thing about eating the way that I do (meat plus veg) is that it's really easy to plan. The only thing else that I will add to this point is to plan yourself some easy to make or can be cooked from frozen meals. I will try and share some examples in the coming weeks. I had a friend fail at converting to this way of eating because he forgot too often to get meat out of the freezer to defrost. 
  • Use up leftovers. This site isn't paleo but you get the point - Love Food Hate Waste. Again your freezer is your friend but really it's best to use stuff up sooner rather than later. If you put stuff in the freezer - label it! I speak from experience. You're not saving anything if you end up throwing food away as unidentifiable. Everything looks the same once it's been in the freezer long enough. Omelettes are a good way to use up veg, and can be eaten at any time of day. Scraps of meat can be saved for things like a stew or curry. And save them bones. Stock and broth are common ways to make best use of left over veg and bones. Bone broth is easy to make, good for the digestive system, protein sparing, filling, and generally good for you as well as economical.  
  • Eat nose to tail. The report focuses more on plants than meat, and carries the assumption that meat is automatically uses more resources than plants. However if they are measuring what makes it to the human stomach then eating nose to tail will increase the amount of the animal that we eat and therefore generate less "waste" (although much of the waste is used to feed dogs and cats amongst used for other things). I am planning on getting a bigger freezer and when I do I will be buying my meat by the part animal. Eating nose to tail and making things like broth will mean I can go longer between purchases and throw away less at the end. 
I will probably expand on all these in later posts. However I've got a long day ahead of me tomorrow so I'm off to bed. 

1 comment:

  1. Although people don't talk about it much I think minimising waste is a key aspect of paleo. Even if your not buying a whole animal - using the bones for broth like you say, eating nutritious organs are all in the right spirit.

    Since eating paleo I've become a lot less fussy about weird combinations of food when using up leftovers. Curries & omelettes are a good shout.