Food is a huge part of my life – I spend a lot of my time cooking, eating, or thinking about what I’m going to cook or eat! But I think that with being a lover of food comes more knowledge about the ethical and environmental issues around it, and it’s something I’ve tried to take on as much as possible in my shopping and eating habits.
Give a Fork is Sustainable Table‘s annual campaign about making positive change through the food we eat. Hosts sign up to create a meal according to the year’s theme, and money raised from the tickets sold go to Sustainable Table’s efforts to educate the public about creating sustainable food systems. This year’s theme is waste free, focusing on taking action to reduce the amount of food scraps, uneaten groceries and packaging wasted by people every day.
Australians discard up to 20% of the food they purchase. That’s 1 out of every 5 bags of groceries they buy
I first heard about it through fellow blogger kellyyyllek, and thought it was such a great idea – and a challenge! And boy was it a challenge. Last weekend I spent the entire day shopping, prepping, cleaning and cooking before hosting 11 of our friends in our little home, all the while being mindful of creating as little waste as possible. I’m not perfect, and despite my efforts this dinner was still far from waste free, but it still was the closest to that ideal I’ve ever managed to get whilst hosting a party.
The (deceptively simple but overly ambitious) menu, not entirely in the correct order:
My plan was to avoid packaging waste as much as possible by sticking mainly to fresh fruit and vegetables from the farmer’s market and staples from a bulk bin shop, keeping the meats pretty simple and everything as homemade as possible. Things didn’t go entirely to plan, but here’s a few things that I learned:
‘Waste free’ is a difficult topic. I think part of this is that there is wastage at various levels – in producing the food itself, in packaging and transporting, in unused items or uneaten leftovers, in scraps. Keeping all of these things in mind at once is difficult and daunting! I felt like I had failed at one point because I couldn’t think of a way to buy meat without it being packaged in some form, but I still feel like I deserve props for trying.
Green bags are awesome. Although we don’t normally shop at a farmer’s market, our usual fruit and veg shop are happy enough for us to keep our veggies loose or in a green bag, to avoid using plastic. I didn’t realise what a habit it was to put things that don’t need to go into those tear-off plastic bags – like a couple of carrots for example – until I stopped to think about it.
Fruit and veggies are easy to go waste free! We have a small worm farm, just a simple one buried in our yard, and they take care of our scraps for us. I have to admit to being too lazy to throw my peelings in there in the past, but now I’ve learned that rotting food in landfill gives off methane gas I’m a bit more mindful.
You can make chips from pumpkin or potato peel. I roughly cut the skin from my pumpkin into chip sized chunks, tossed in a goodly amount of olive oil, then baked in the oven until crisp. It was an experiment I didn’t plan to serve to my guests, but it was pretty awesome for something I’d usually discard.
Meat is not so easy. I couldn’t find free-range chicken that wasn’t wrapped in plastic, and even if I could I simply don’t have anything to transport it in. And though I usually keep chicken bones to make a broth from, I didn’t feel comfortable keeping my guests’ scraps so these unfortunately ended up in the bin. I’ve read that composting meat scraps is possible, but didn’t have time to research it beforehand.
Bulk bin staples are not as easy as you might think. I read an account from another blogger (in the US) who brings her glass jars to the bulk bin store and gets the checkout person to just deduct the weight of the jar when adding up their amount. Easy! Or not – the place I tried this at was very nice about my request, but their system doesn’t allow for deducting the weight of weird extra items, so I had to buy my dried chickpeas in a plastic bag. I did however buy enough to make hommus, salad and have heaps leftover for my work salads – the equivalent of a few tins. Next time I’ll bring a canvas bag for dried chickpeas, although for things like flour or sugar I’m not sure I see a way around the plastic.
Waste free alcohol? I’d be game to try brewing my own beer or moonshine, but in this case I didn’t have the time to experiment. A dinner party without wine is too foreign for me so I ended up requesting that my guests contribute something to drink, and those bottles unfortunately had to go into the recycling bin.
Choose your dishes wisely. I thought I’d kept things pretty simple, but because I chose to do it all in one day and made some bad choices it was close to 9pm before everything was ready to eat (thankfully I had some helpers and kept the flatbread and dips going in the meantime). I spent a lot of time with things I should really have done the previous day, like the sorbet and the chickpeas. I also regret the flatbread – it was pretty well received, but had to be served freshly toasted on a skillet, as opposed to my usual loaf which I could have baked in the morning. Also my stick mixer proved to be inadequate for making hommus, which then had to be mashed by hand by my helpers – but ended up being the favourite bit of the night for a lot of people!
Nothing wrong with ‘rustic’ decor. I pulled together a mismatched assortment of tables, chairs, plates, glasses and cutlery, lined up placemats as a table runner, laid out reusable linen napkins and adorned the table with cuttings from the olive tree outside placed in old beer bottles.
A tired hostess is not a great conversationalist. I was ready to go to sleep before my guests even arrived, so I wasn’t really in any condition to lead a conversation about trying to reduce wastage. I’m not sure if I managed to impart any knowledge through this dinner to be honest, but if it gets people to be aware of it at least then that’s something right?
I need to invite a photographer friend next time. I have pretty much no photos from the night, because I was too busy!
Our friends are awesome. It was an odd bunch of travellers, dancers, animal lovers and food enthusiasts. Most of them hadn’t met each other before, but made friends with each other and afterwards complimented me on my choice of friends. I’m so grateful that they came along to support me and share a meal.
If you think this is a good cause (or an interesting challenge), you can host your own Give a Fork waste free dinner until the end of October – just sign up on their website.