From our love of takeaways to our confusion about whether about-to-expire items are safe to eat, there are endless ways New Zealanders waste food. In her nationwide tour, waste expert Kate Fenwick promises ‘facepalm moments’
as she attempts to educate the masses on what we’re doing wrong.
Kate Fenwick is listing the top 10 foods that New Zealanders toss in the trash.
High on the list is bread. We throw away 29 million loaves a year if you add up every stale slice and uneaten sammie.
“It blows your mind,” says Fenwick, who owns Waste-Ed with Kate, a business focused on waste minimisation and consumer behaviour change.
She also stars on TV1′s Eat Well For Less and says much food waste is because of “food behaviour”, such as our need to grocery shop or buy takeaways even when fridges aren’t empty.
You should be “buying what you need, and eating what you buy”.
Food waste, when it rots in the dump, produces methane gas, which quickly heats the planet. But it’s a surprisingly tough problem to solve because there isn’t just one way we waste food.
Fenwick, who lives in Katikati, near Tauranga, is on an 11-stop tour of the country with her workshop Foodlovers Masterclass, educating Kiwis about food waste and how to do their part to stop it. She promises “some face-palm moments”.
A recent Rabobank-KiwiHarvest survey shows New Zealanders throw out $3.2 billion of food annually.
Households waste 12.2 per cent of groceries yearly, a slight decrease from last year’s 13.4 per cent. That’s $1510 of food thrown out, per household, per year.
“When you think about the resources that go into growing food, transportation and storage, to then just throw it out, is a lot bigger than people realise,” she says.
Many of us don’t value food because we are “too busy”, and we are habitual shoppers, meaning we routinely throw in the trolley things we may not need, like more apples.
“We haven’t seen the end of the apple season for years,” Fenwick jokes of Kiwis’ obsession with topping up their fruit bowls.
Also featured in our top-10 wasted food items are overripe bananas, oranges, lettuce, carrots, potatoes, onions, poultry and beef.
As a side note, we throw away $45 million of beef a year. “It’s like growing about 7000 cows, butchering them, and throwing them all away,” she says.
Another modern-day conundrum is that processors and retailers often accept produce only if it meets certain aesthetic specifications and consumers, in general, have come to favour good-looking food.
“Nowadays, if there is only one lettuce left, people want [staff] to go out back and get another bin of lettuce so they can choose the one they want.”
Shoppers don’t eat in season any more and like multi-buys where you might buy two broccoli instead of one because it’s a deal, but the extra purchase doesn’t always get eaten.
A lot of perishable items end up “dying a slow, miserable death in the fridge”.
Rather than do one big weekly shop, Fenwick suggests buying for two or three days and planning your meals.
She also advocates storing veges in an airtight container over the vege drawer, thereby extending its lifespan by weeks, and using silicon and beeswax wraps.
We need to shift our mindset about food leftovers, which people are “scared” of: “You have two hours to get them in the fridge, two days to eat them, and if you’re not going to eat them, two months stored in the freezer.
“Look in your council-provided food waste bin and monitor what you’re throwing away. If you’ve got a lot of leftovers, start cooking less; if you’ve got lots of lettuce leaves, have a break from lettuce.”
When it comes to food waste bins, companies Pioneer Energy Ltd and EcoStock Supplies Ltd have created a partnership called Ecogas, to operate New Zealand’s first food waste-focused “anaerobic digestion facility” to process roadside collections of organic bins. They are already working with several North Island councils to make the service more accessible to homes and businesses.
Rather than composting, this is an enclosed process that breaks down food into renewable biogas and fertiliser that is then used to help grow crops in neighbouring glasshouses and produce electricity.
Ecogas believes all food produced for eating should be eaten, but there’ll always be food manufacturing byproducts and inedible food that need to be disposed of responsibly and sustainably.
When it comes to meat, Fenwick advocates not overfilling your freezer. Cyclone Gabrielle showed us what can happen to meat during power cuts caused by extreme weather events.
With dry produce, if stored correctly, much of it can last “years”.
A best-before date is less important than use-by, which is a food safety warning.
“Use your senses.”
# For tickets to one of Kate’s upcoming events, go to wastedkate.co.nz. She will be in Tauranga on November 23 and Te Puke on December 7.
Tips and tricks
We asked members from the Facebook page Cheaper Ways NZ to share their ideas on how to make food go further.
Using food waste for compost or in worm farms was a repeated tip, as was having chickens and “trading” scraps for eggs; freezing everything that isn’t eaten and making stews, soups and stock; using old fruit in jams, compote, or pies and crumbles. Throw sprouted spuds, garlic and onion into the garden.
Fruit and veg
Rochelle: Put your broccoli and cauliflower stalks into a container with water so that the head doesn’t wilt.
Beck: Refresh wilted lettuce in an ice water bath.
Johanna: Spuds past their best can be made into chips, pre-cooked and frozen.
Lisa and Louise: Make One Bite Crumble or Forgotten Fruit Muffins and Forgotten Veggie Tart or quiche. When the kids take one bite out of a piece of fruit or vegetable, it gets stuck in the freezer and saved up for the above.
Theresa: Buy reduced-to-clear items like grapes, capsicums, cucumber and carrots, wash and chop them, and put them into glass jars. Glass extends their life by 7-10 days.
Julie: Wash discarded carrot and parsnip peels, garlic and onion shells, parsley and celery, then dry in the hot water cupboard for three weeks. Turn every three days. Then, blitz, place in a jar, and shake daily for a fortnight to “condition” it, then sprinkle it into soups, stock, and onto chips, steak or chops.
Isobial: Dehydrate fruit and use the slices in tea, cocktails, jellies, and baking. Or turn them into a powder with a Ninja Bullet for a rim powder for cocktails or gin. Excess veges can be dehydrated and powdered to use as sauce and gravy thickener. Infuse salt by adding powdered zest, herbs or veges. Powdered herbs and fruits can also be added to sugar. Candied citrus peels dipped in dark chocolate make good Christmas gifts.
Anita: Use the whole vegetable. For example, if you have beetroot, use the leaves in a salad and make beetroot chips.
Cherie: Citrus skin can be dried and used as a firelighter.
Glynis: Freeze eggs by lining a muffin tin with plastic wrap and breaking an egg into each hole. Then defrost them one at a time as you need them. Di: If the texture of the yolks doesn’t look good when defrosted, next time try mashing or whisking two at a time.
Stephanie: Turn stale bread into French toast called pain perdu (lost bread). In winter, make croutons to add to soups.
Carly Gibbs is a weekend magazine writer for the Bay of Plenty Times and Rotorua Daily Post and has been a journalist for two decades. She is a former news and feature writer, for which she’s been both an award finalist and winner.