Trash is for tossers – so eat up

Con­ve­nience foods are not the an­swer, for your health, or the health of the planet

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Lifestyle - John McKenna John McKenna is edi­tor at

‘Waste is a fail­ure of the imag­i­na­tion,” chef and restau­ra­teur Dou­glas McMaster, of Silo restau­rant in Brighton, in the UK, told the au­di­ence at Gal­way’s Food on the Edge fes­ti­val. Just to add a lit­tle salt to the wound, he of­fered us an­other un­for­get­table apho­rism: “Trash is for tossers.”

Oh dear. As if we didn’t al­ready feel bad about the amount of waste that our cook­ing and our kitchens pro­duce ev­ery day of ev­ery week of the year. It’s be­come a modern tru­ism that one of the worst things for our men­tal health isn’t the food we eat, it’s the food we don’t eat: the stuff we throw away is crip­pling us with anx­i­ety. We’re the tossers.

So, what can we do to re­move the anx­i­ety of cre­at­ing food waste that we know is bad for the planet? And how can we do so with­out it re­quir­ing time that we sim­ply don’t have?

For many peo­ple, es­pe­cially those who live alone, the an­swer to avoid­ing waste is to buy con­ve­nience foods, foods that are ready-made, in sin­gle por­tions. You heat it up, eat it up, and it seems sim­ple. Un­til you con­sider the amount of pro­cess­ing that is com­mon in th­ese foods, and the hor­ren­dous amount of pack­ag­ing that they re­quire.

Con­ve­nience foods are not the an­swer, for your health, or the health of the planet.

Part of the prob­lem with cre­at­ing waste is the very way in which we think of food. We buy a bunch of car­rots, and toss away the tops. We buy a bunch of beets, and chuck away the leaves. We peel our spuds, and our parsnips and our Brus­sels sprouts, and throw away the peel­ings.

No waste

In the best pro­fes­sional kitchens today, none of that waste would be per­mit­ted. The car­rot tops are used to make a car­rot top pesto. Beet leaves are used the same way as spinach, and the beet stalks are chopped and cooked. Potato skins and many other el­e­ments are re­pur­posed through be­ing dried, pick­led, or pre­served. In a pro­fes­sional kitchen, waste costs money.

In her bril­liant book The Cul­tured Club, Dearbhla Reynolds, the lead­ing fer­men­ta­tion ex­pert in North­ern Ire­land, shows just how far you can take this idea.

Reynolds saves her avo­cado stones to grate over sand­wiches or sal­ads, or to in­cor­po­rate into smooth­ies. She uses pineap­ple skin to make the Mex­i­can drink, tepache, and she grinds up eggshells to sprin­kle over her por­ridge, all the bet­ter to get at all the cal­cium locked into the shell.

So, the most ob­vi­ous way to re­duce food waste is to use it all. And to use it all, it is best to cook it all. How many times have you come back from Satur­day shop­ping, stacked a bunch of stuff away in the fridge, then gone back on Wed­nes­day evening only to dis­cover that the broc­coli flo­rets are squidgy and the toma­toes are turn­ing black.

Shop and cook One of the best lessons I learned from a smart book on fru­gal cook­ing, An Ever­last­ing Meal, by Ta­mar Adler, is that the ideal time to cook is straight away, when you get home from the shops.

If you roast that broc­coli, then it will only need to be gen­tly re­heated on Wed­nes­day evening, and be­ing cooked means it will hold bet­ter. When the car­rot tops are fresh, make that pesto: by Wed­nes­day evening they will be stalky and past their best.

If you get a whole heap of cook­ing done af­ter the shop­ping, then mid-week means good eat­ing, and no toss­ing stuff into the trash.

And here’s the other thing the week­end is good for: cook­ing some­thing that will give you de­li­cious meals of left­overs. Some of the most imag­i­na­tive food writ­ing of re­cent years, from tal­ents such as Jamie Oliver and Diana Henry, is ac­tu­ally all about us­ing left­overs.

Jamie Oliver’s book, Save With Jamie ,is a bril­liant re­source for ideas that can fol­low on from the Sun­day lunch. Your left­over roast lamb, for ex­am­ple, goes on to make bur­ri­tos; Scotch broth; lamb noo­dle salad; shep­herd’s pie; lamb pastilla; and lamb biryani. Diana Henry roasts a chicken, and then uses what is left to make Chi­ang Mai noo­dles; chicken and pars­ley risotto; Viet­namese chicken; chicken and ham pie; chicken and bread salad; and chicken with wild rice and blue­ber­ries.

The only thing th­ese dishes need is left­overs, and a lit­tle imag­i­na­tion. The re­sult is no wasted food to make you feel bad.

April Bloom­field’s Car­rot Top Pesto

100g del­i­cate car­rot tops, stems dis­carded, roughly chopped Small hand­ful basil leaves 55g wal­nut halves 25g Parme­san cheese, finely grated 1 medium gar­lic clove, halved length­wise 1 tsp sea salt 110ml ex­tra vir­gin olive oil

Com­bine the car­rot tops and basil in a small food pro­ces­sor, pulse sev­eral times, then add the wal­nuts, Parme­san, gar­lic and salt. Pulse sev­eral more times, add the oil, then process full-on, stop­ping and scrap­ing down the sides of the pro­ces­sor or stir­ring gen­tly if need be, un­til the mix­ture is well com­bined but still a bit chunky. Taste and season with more salt, if you fancy.


In the best pro­fes­sional kitchens today, none of that waste would be per­mit­ted.

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