Our apathetic attitude to food waste is trashing the planet. So, to save it and save money, learn how to make the most of the food in your fridge – and not fritter away our future
Recent figures from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) have shocked and puzzled me with equal ferocity. I was happy throwing stones at industry for its mindless fuel consumption and poor environmental policies.
Ach, wasn’t I Mother Nature’s wet dream, drinking organic apple juice and using toothpaste tablets? Turns out I’m a much bigger problem on this planet than I thought. And so are you, dear reader. Our blasé attitude to leftovers and food waste is trashing the planet. “It’s only one banana,” said one billion people.
The UNEP’s 2021 Food Waste Index Report attests that we waste 1 billion tons of food each year. A staggering one-third of all food harvested or produced globally is wasted, resulting in a massive 8pc of total carbon emissions on our planet. To put this in context, commercial flights make up around 2pc of total greenhouse gas emissions. Yikes! And 61pc of food waste is coming from households like yours and mine (with only 26pc from food service, such as restaurants and canteens, and 13pc from retail). These figures will differ from country to country, but the maths is still the same — we are scorching the planet, you and I.
The average Irish household throws out 150kg of food each year, warns the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This translates as approximately €700 physically binned by each household in Ireland. I don’t know about you, but I could surely do with an extra €700 in my pocket.
I always presumed food gracefully decomposed, but food rotting in landfill actually causes methane to be released into the environment. We’re told that methane is 25 times deadlier than carbon at accelerating climate change. And so many precious resources, like land and water, are unnecessarily squandered when we bin food.
Eating all the food we have in our home may seem like an insignificant aspect of the massive environmental challenge we face. But imagine the greenhouse gas reduction if we all improved our household food waste by 50pc? This cut, however small, is possibly one of the most effective steps we, as consumers, can take to reduce the damage done to our environment.
Now I’m policing every last scrap in my fridge and have assigned my elder son to be the trash ambassador for our house.
My enthusiasm for reducing food waste is enough to make Mary Poppins look lame. So for the month of January, this column will tackle some of the top food items wasted in Ireland, and attempt to breathe new life into their sorry remains. I’ll do the research, so you won’t have to.
There will be advice on proper storage to help your produce last longer; clever ways to repurpose leftovers; shopping tips to prevent food waste and enhance your green credentials on Tinder; plus culinary band-aids when extra flavour is needed.
There are no downsides to reducing food waste. You spend less. You bring less single-use plastic into your home as a result of reducing your food items.
You save more time by spending less in stores. You become a better cook by channelling your inner Neven Maguire and igniting your creativity. Any reason that resonates with you is the best reason.
My only demand is that you bless your kitchen with industrial amounts of giddiness and adventure. This time next month, you will have drastically reduced your all-important carbon footprint, smashed your food-waste stats, nailed some plant-powered recipes — all the while, saving money along the way.
And if you want to expand your food-waste journey into your neighbourhood, then check out the food-sharing app Olio. You can put your setting at 2km, for example, and collect or share any food going to waste within 2km of your home. Amazing, right?
Today, we’re starting with breadcrumbs and finishing with fritters. I collect stale-ing bread (new word alert!) in a reusable freezer bag each time I know I won’t be finishing the loaf staring at me in the kitchen. I repurpose this bread all the time. Bread is not costly, but that ain’t the point, my friends. Collecting old bread is one of the easiest habits to acquire, and one of the most rewarding. Fried breadcrumbs on top of soup tastes insanely delicious, or scattered across broccoli with Parmesan, for example. Add some chopped rosemary while frying breadcrumbs in butter, and your pasta will reach a new stratosphere. Yup. This bag of old bread is going to take your cooking up an octave.
So today, we are blitzing my old freezer bread into fine breadcrumbs to hold these fritters together.
Use whatever vegetable you have — that lonely carrot, the wilting parsnip or that unloved raw beet staring back at you from the fridge shelf. Halloumi cheese has a very long shelf life, so it’s good to have a few packets at the back of your fridge, to help use up random veg. And while I’ve listed the spices that rock my plate, use whatever you have, soldier!
Makes 8 or more
You will need:
200-250g block of halloumi
150g any grated (or spiralised) veg (eg sweet potato, white potato, carrot, parsnip, pumpkin, courgette, beetroot, celeriac)
Zest of ½ unwaxed lemon (optional oomph)
3 heaped tablespoons freezer breadcrumbs or plain flour
2 teaspoons sweet curry powder or garam masala or ground cumin
1 scallion, finely chopped
1 chilli, finely chopped and/or a handful of fresh herbs, finely chopped
1 large egg or 2 small eggs, beaten
Olive oil or coconut oil, to fry
Plain yoghurt, to serve
1 Grate the halloumi into a bowl. Add the grated or spiralised veg.
2 Mix through the lemon zest, if you’re using it, the breadcrumbs or the plain flour, whichever you’re using, the sweet curry powder or garam masala or ground cumin, whichever you’re using, the finely chopped scallion, the finely chopped chilli and/or the finely chopped herbs.
3 Drop in the beaten egg. Mix well. One egg is usually fine if you are using courgette or white potato in your fritters. Two small eggs are best for carrot or sweet potato fritters.
4 When you’re ready to eat, gently heat some olive oil or coconut oil, whichever you’re using, in a frying pan over a medium heat. Any hotter, and the outside of the fritter might burn while the inside stays raw. Take a palmful of mixture into your hands, compress it into a fritter, and drop on the heated oil. Press down. Cook each fritter for 3 minutes each side, or until the inside is melty and the outside is golden. Adjust the heat setting as you go along to suit the size of your fancy fritter. If you’re serving more than two lucky peeps, you might like to use an extra frying pan so all the fritters cook simultaneously. Or keep the fritters warm as you cook them, in a 40C, 104F oven. Also, any leftover mixture will keep in the fridge for 2-3 days.
5 Serve the fritters hot, with your favourite sauce. I love to serve these fritters with a tray of roasted sweet potato wedges and some yoghurt chilli sauce. Makes a great WFH option to have in the fridge.