No-waste veg guide
In our exclusive interview, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall shares new ways with veg on the plot and the plate, to help you enjoy more of what you grow
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall reveals ways to grow and cook for zero food waste
We’re addicted to waste. We throw away 5.8 million potatoes and 1.5 million tomatoes every day in the UK. Households are binning £13bn of food, every year, that could have been eaten. And, despite the huge financial and environmental costs of this waste, it’s a problem that shows no sign of going away. Which is why chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall launched his campaign for change, with his TV programme War on Waste, and now he’s calling on gardeners to play their part in tackling the food waste mountain. “I think people are highly motivated to not waste veg when they’ve grown it themselves,” says Hugh. But it can be a challenge, when harvests all come at once, to use everything up. “We need to stretch the ways in which we use familiar veg,” he says. Hugh insists that the more we enjoy veg and understand how to cook it, the less we’ll waste, whether it’s homegrown or bought. We need to change the way we shop for vegetables, as well. The supermarkets’ strict visual criteria means farmers leave fields of full of veg to rot. “The supermarkets’ excuse is that their customers won’t buy blemished roots,” says Hugh. “We have to prove to them that we will.” As any gardener knows, it’s not unusual to get a forked carrot or bent parsnip, but the priority for homegrowers is flavour, not looks. So when we buy veg, Hugh urges us to keep flavour rather than looks in mind. “Class II veg is from the same field as Class I – it’s not sub-standard – it’s just a slightly different shape or size,” he says. You’ll find the class marked on bagged fruit and veg – Class II veg are often sold through the low-price ranges, meaning they’re cheaper too! The more that supermarkets relax their criteria, the less waste farmers will create. “The worst ones for waste are carrots and parsnips, where the ideal of the straight and perfect is applied in an extreme way,” Hugh says. As consumers, we can show supermarkets we are happy with wonky veg. Homegrowers can help by letting nothing go to waste, especially as a staggering 71 per cent of food waste comes from households.* This food waste goes into landfill and creates methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than CO2. Composting waste helps, but doesn’t solve the problem. The resources that went into growing it – seeds, compost, water and the energy used to transport these – are wasted when that veg ends up in the bin or the compost heap. And that’s as true for homegrown veg as it is for shop-bought.
The first step towards minimising waste on the veg plot is picking the right veg to grow. “The important thing is to grow stuff you really enjoy eating and that doesn’t take up too much space,” Hugh says. The more we enjoy the vegetables we grow and eat, the less we’ll throw away, he reasons. “There are conventions that we eat certain veg raw, others we boil and then a few things like parsnips and potatoes, we roast. Why aren’t we roasting cauliflower florets or whole Brussels sprouts? And if we’re roasting those, what can we mix them with that would be delicious? What veg are we cooking that’s also great raw – such as parsnips – especially young ones. Or how about fresh kale, marinated in salt and vinegar? “We know that caramelisation makes meat and fish delicious so let’s try with veg.” Hugh suggests cutting a cabbage into wedges and putting the cut side in a hot frying pan to blacken. “You’ll have caramelised edges and raw in the middle. Serve with spicy houmous and you’ve got something with so much flavour.” And while we might add salt or butter to veg, Hugh champions using a range of flavours, such as lemon, ginger, honey and spices. “I like using one or two spices rather than a blend that steers you towards curry – whole cumin seeds or fennel seeds give you a pop of aroma. Cumin goes brilliantly with root veg and starchy veg, such as squashes.” Armed with fresh homegrown veg and inspiring recipes, there is little excuse to waste anything. “None of these things are hard to do,” Hugh says. “You can use these techniques on lots of veg that we don’t think of cooking in those ways. Put flavours together you don’t expect, like squash, sweetcorn and plums. You get the pop of the sweetcorn and richness of the squash with the tartness of plums.” It’s easy to help prevent waste, insists Hugh, simply change the way you look at veg, in your garden, in the supermarket and in your pan. As he writes in his latest book, Much More Veg, “If I were to choose just one thing we could all do to be healthier and feel more energised, to have a better relationship with food and with our environment, it would be this: eat more veg.”
Why aren’t we roasting cauliflower florets or whole Brussels sprouts?
One cause of waste is harvests all coming at once – avoid this by spreading out your crops into small sowings to harvest in succession