Eating (Mostly) Only Food Waste for a Month: 10 Ways I Saved Food
I ate as much food waste as possible for a month to help me unearth all the ways in which food can be saved from going to waste in my city and others. Here’s how I managed to eat 90 meals mostly made up of food waste last month…
I set myself a challenge to eat as much food waste as possible for a month to help me unearth all the ways in which we can fight food waste so I could share them and hopefully inspire others to try eating more food that would otherwise go to waste!
Food waste is a massive problem, not only because of all the resources wasted when producing and transporting food and all those going hungry, but also because wasted food that ends up in landfill ends up emitting greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.
You can read more about the long-term consequences of this wastage in this article: The long-term impacts of food waste: can we have a waste-free 2050?
So, for October 2018, I stayed away from my usual bulk stores and food markets and became obsessed with finding food that was going to go to waste.
From simply buying food from the reduced section at the supermarket and shopping last minute at farmer's markets to bin diving, I managed to eat 90 meals that were all or mostly made from food waste.
Only three meals didn't involve any food waste (one catered birthday party, one anniversary dinner and one fail). I think I did a pretty good job and loved discovering all the different ways I could eat food that would otherwise have gone to waste.
It has definitely changed my thinking around how I source my food and made me more aware of how massive the problem of food waste is.
It wasn't always easy accessing food going to waste and this was the hardest part. I found that there was more than enough food going to waste to easily allow me to live off of food waste for the month but the problem is making this food more available for people to access and eat it.
There are many amazing initiatives in Melbourne that are making this happen: charities like OzHarvest and SecondBite, Bring Me Home and The Inconvenience Store, but more still needs to be done to save perfectly good food that is being sent to landfill! Especially all the food supermarkets throw out.
There are many small things everyone can do to lessen the amount of food wasted on a daily basis and various ways we can all save food from going to waste during weekly food shops. Here are all the ways in which I saved food from going to waste over the month…
1. Shopping My Fridge and Pantry
Firstly, you can save food waste by simply eating what you have rather than going out and buying more food! This includes food at the back of the fridge, hiding in your food cupboard, and leftovers from yesterday and earlier in the week’s cooking.
Before you go food shopping, check what you have that you need to use up - fruit, vegetables, herbs and sauces - and construct your menu around what you already have.
You can easily see what you need to consume so it doesn't go to waste by making a Eat Me First box for your fridge or dedicating a shelf to food that needs to be eaten first. Teach the rest of the family and yourself to reach for this box or shelf when looking for something to eat.
Eating leftovers from previous meals means no cooking and no food waste! Just remember to freeze any leftovers that you’re not going to eat soon so they don’t end up going mouldy at the back of the fridge.
We had a half used jar of curry paste in the fridge so we used it together with some of the vegetables we saved one week to make a curry and we had some rice noodles that had been in our pasta jar for over a year, so we used that in a stir fry with some other vegetables we saved.
We made big meals and froze what was left over so I could eat these leftovers on busy days when I didn’t have time to cook something new and when I had eaten all the fresh food I had rescued.
2. Buying Ugly Fruit and Veg / Seconds and Food in the Reduced Section
One way to save food waste when shopping at regular food stores, supermarkets, farmer’s markets is to buy the ugly fruit and vegetables or ‘seconds’ and the food in the reduced section.
Before automatically picking the best looking fruit and vegetables and a bunch of bananas, rather see if there are any sad and funny looking ones you can rescue and any lonely single bananas that might get left behind. Also see if the shop has a seconds or reduced section hiding anywhere and buy food from it rather than from the shelves.
If not sold this food will be binned. And those expiry dates don’t mean much at all - the majority of food can be eaten way past these dates. You can read more about this in our Can Food Past Its Best-Before Date Be Eaten?: What Do Expiry Dates Really Mean? article.
You’ll not only save food but money too as this food is cheaper! And buying food that is on its way out or weird looking also sends the message that consumers won't only buy perfect produce.
We shopped Ceres Organic Grocery’s seconds section and at other stores we singled out the produce that looked like it would never be picked - we bought zucchinis that had ugly cuts in them, a red capsicum that had a mouldy spot, browning bananas, single bananas, fallen off cloves of garlic, a weirdly shaped onion, and limp carrots.
I cooked the food that needed to be cooked immediately straight away on the Sunday and froze it in portions for later use or consumption. This way I knew it wasn’t going to go to far in the fridge while waiting to be cooked and eaten.
One great food find I had during the month was some expired mustard in an IGA’s reduced section. I used it for dressings for salads and sauces for roast vegetables (mustard and balsamic dressing and honey and mustard sauce) and on bread rolls with tomato.
3. Going to Farmer's Markets Just Before They Close
Just before farmer’s markets shut up for the day, stall holders need to get rid of the produce that needs to be sold that day. If not sold, this food ends up being thrown out.
Most stalls advertise this food as needing to be sold (by signs or shouting) and sell it at much cheaper prices. If not, just ask if there is anything that needs to be bought.
We went to Queen Victoria Market on a Sunday 15 minutes before it closed at 4pm (the market is closed on Mondays so there is lots of produce that needs saving on Sundays) and nearly every stall had a table of less than perfect fruit and vegetables they were trying to sell before the end of the day. Some had made up boxes of produce that were ridiculously cheap and the roar of various vegetable names and low dollar amounts sounded out over the crowd.
Some of this food still ends up in the bin and you can also bin dive the bins at farmer’s markets after they have closed as stall holders will often throw out fruit and vegetables that won’t make it to the next market day - a lot of people do this at Queen Victoria Market - but we prefer to give the stall holders something for their produce because we can afford to pay for it and they deserve something for their hard work. More on bin diving below!
4. Shopping at Food Waste Grocery Stores
There is an amazing trend of grocery stores that sell food that would have otherwise been binned opening in cities around the world - The Real Junk Food Project in Leeds, England, The Free Store in Wellington, New Zealand, and WeFood in Copenhagen, Denmark. This is a great add-on to the amazing charities that distribute food waste to those in need.
There is more than enough food waste to go around and these stores enable those who need this food but aren’t reached by those charities to help themselves to food, as well as enabling those who just want to save food from going to waste to access this food.
They generally work on a pay-as-you-feel basis and this lets those who can’t afford to pay to still help themselves to this food and those who can pay to donate funds to help the store to continue running.
Here in Melbourne, The Inconvenience Store opened inside the Thornbury Lentil as Anything restaurant earlier this year. It sells food that has been passed on as "food waste" on a pay as you feel basis.
All the food and products in the store are rescued, donated, sorted and stocked by its volunteer food rescue team, Food Without Borders. The store itself, which is open 11am to 3pm Fridays and Mondays and 10am to 3pm Saturdays and Sundays, is also run by volunteers. Contributions are encouraged if patrons can afford to contribute, with all contributions go towards sustaining the food rescue operation, paying for transport costs, storage, and electricity.
You can learn more about The Inconvenience Store and Food Without Borders, including how to get involved and donate food here: www.lentilasanything.com/the-inconvenience-store.
We are lucky to live in walking distance from The Inconvenience Store, so I was able to feed myself from this food waste some weeks. As we can afford it, I always left a donation in exchange for the food.
The food was always perfectly good, with lots of loaves of bread and fruit and vegetables available, as well as some other items that were no longer marketable but too good to waste, like coconut yoghurt, coconut water, strawberry jam, and even essential oils.
We made sure we didn’t take too much so that we didn’t take food that other people might need and that we had a plan for each item of food we took so it didn’t go to waste after we got it home. It’s always hard to know if you should take more so it doesn’t go to waste because you didn’t take it or less because there is someone else who needs it more than you! The store does limit the amount taken by each person to 6 kilos to make sure there is enough for everybody.
If you live in the area or are ever in the area, go and check The Inconvenience Store out and support it, so it can continue its fight against food waste. As the store says, “by shopping at the Inconvenience Store, you will be making a revolutionary contribution to society: actively preventing food waste, thereby helping heal the environment, and supporting a unique social enterprise”.
5. Eating Excess Food Being Given Away by Neighbours / Friends / Colleagues / Freegans and on Apps
I kept an eye out for any extra food being given away by people who had too much of a certain fruit, vegetable or other food item and needed to get rid of it.
Often, in my neighbourhood if you walk around, you’ll find baskets outside people’s homes filled with things like lemons and a FREE sign pointing to them. I also have colleagues who bring in excess food they have grown into work to share around so it doesn’t go to waste.
You can also find this food being offered on Facebook in its marketplace and in Good Karma Network Facebook groups, as well as in freegan Facebook groups. Often freegans, who live off of free food, go bin diving and end up with way more food than they can eat so they offer this food waste for free or for a swap in these groups on Facebook.
There are also apps that help to share excess food that would otherwise be wasted around, however I haven’t found any of these apps to be very active in Melbourne or Australia. Olio is very popular in the UK. It connects neighbours and local shops so surplus food and other household items can be shared, not thrown away. It is a brilliant app and I wish more people in Melbourne used it!
I helped finish off some food that had been taken to a festival and not eaten, and fed off excess food from product presentations at work.
6. Bin Diving
Have you ever peered into a bin behind a supermarket? It's shocking how much food is thrown out! And most of it is completely fine to eat.
There are groups of people who go into these bins after these stores have closed and rescue this food from the bin, using it to feed themselves and others. Bin diving is a great way to save perfectly good food from going to landfill - and is the last opportunity to do so.
We joined a seasoned bin diver on a dive one day and got a big haul of food that lasted us an entire week. The food store’s trash was full of heaps of bread and vegetables and expired meats and salads, as well as yoghurt, cereal, donuts and tons of Sunny crumpets, which were only expiring in a few days’ time.
We only took what we could eat this week, sharing our haul with the freegan who showed us the ropes and leaving the rest for anyone else who wants or needs food.
If you are keen to give it a go but a bit nervous about it, we recommend teaming up with someone who has done it before (we went with someone we found in a freegan group on Facebook), otherwise just grab some gloves and a milk crate, find an unlocked bin and help yourself to what’s inside after hours. It is not illegal in Victoria. Security guards may ask you to move along. Either just leave and try again another day or have a conversation with them about why you’re doing it. And don’t give bin divers a bad name - leave things neat and tidy and as you left them.
7. Taking Home Leftovers When Eating Out
Did you know 58% of commercial food waste is food left on plates?! Only 2% is due to spoilage and 40% is waste created in the kitchen. As consumers we can make a massive dent in that 58% by ordering meals according to how hungry we are, finishing our food and taking home our leftovers.
Also save any leftovers from meals cooked at home and eat them the next day or freeze them for eating at a later date.
There’s nothing wrong with taking home a doggy bag and eating leftovers. Especially if you take them home in your own container! And you’ve paid for the food so it’s yours to take.
We didn’t actually have any leftovers to take home this month as we only ate out once and we finished our food, but we always pack in a reusable container to place any leftovers in when eating out. No food waste and free lunch the next day!
8. Using Bring Me Home Food Rescue App
We used the Being Me Home app quite a few times over the month. The app lets you buy surplus food from Melbourne’s restaurants that would otherwise go into the bin at half price at the end of the day. A win for the vendor, a win for customers and a win for reduced food waste!
You simply choose a participating cafe or restaurant, purchase your portion of rescued food and then pick it up during the specified hours. And bringing your own container is encouraged!
You can also use the app to save food that grocery stores are going to throw out.
I saved a gigantic slice of delicious pizza, a scrumptious bagel, a taco and supermarket haul of popcorn, bread crumbs, scotch finger biscuits, fruit juice, and iced coffee through the app over the month.
Check the app and see if there is food to be rescued from cafes or restaurants in your area first to save food from being binned.
9. Using and Eating Food Scraps
You can eat most parts of most vegetables. I don’t know why I have chopped off broccoli stalks and spinach stalks most of my life! Don't only eat the leaves! You can eat broccoli stalks just like the florets and spinach stems make for great smoothies. And don't not eat the leaves! You can eat the leaves on cauliflowers and beetroots.
Before cutting off and composting what you think can't be eaten, think again. Could it be eaten? Are you only not using that part of the plant out of habit?
Also, you can regrow a lot of vegetables from veggie scraps. You can regrow spring onion by just placing it in a glass of water. Place the roots in a glass, simply change the water daily and you'll soon have new sprigs of scallions you can use.
And, you can make homemade vegetable stock out of veggie scraps.
Don’t waste any of the nutrients in the food you buy - use every bit and get everything out of them and regrow them if possible.
I seasoned saved potatoes with spring onion I had regrown, used homemade vegetable stock in some of the meals I made and drunk many smoothies made from rescued fruit and the stalks of rescued spinach.
10. Eating Top Paddock’s Food Waste Special
I didn’t think I would get to eat brunch during a month of trying to only eat food waste, but then I found out that Richmond cafe, Top Paddock has a meal made out of food waste on their menu!
In a bid to be zero waste, the cafe has a rotating menu item that is created out of 100% food waste from their kitchen. How amazing is that!
The Sunday we went we were served an egg white omelette with sautéed greens, house-made ricotta, salsa verde and toasted bread ends. It was delicious.
More restaurants should be doing this! Mention it to your local and order the food waste special if dining at Top Paddock to show your support for their food saving efforts.
Storing Food Properly
Another part of reducing food waste is knowing how to prolong the life of food and how to store it so it keeps and you can eat it later on.
The freezer is an amazing appliance that really helps keep food that you will only eat later on in perfect condition. Just remember to freeze food if you’re not going to get to it before it starts going off.
You can wrap vegetables in the fridge in a wet tea towel to prolong their life and you can keep some vegetables happy for ages by sitting them in a jar of water.
You can also dry herbs for later use. We were given a bunch of excess garden-grown rosemary and used some but still had heaps left. Not wanting to waste it, we hung it up to dry in our kitchen and are storing it in a little glass bottle for use as dried rosemary. If stored in an airtight container, they will only start losing their flavour after a year!
We share how to effectively store food without plastic in depth in our Plastic-Free Fridge & Freezer: How To Store Food Without Plastic article.
Compost Not Landfill
After you have eaten all that you can eat of a certain fruit or vegetable and squeezed as many nutrients out of it as possible, compost the rest. Food scraps must never be sent to landfill.
You can learn more about composting and why you can compost no matter your housing situation in our Composting 101: What You Can Compost and the Best Options For Small Spaces article.
Keep Up the Fight
We will continue to do some of these ways of fighting food waste daily and weekly, while others we will do occasionally. If everyone did some of these to save some food, imagine the difference it would make!
Food is such a valuable resource and it should never be wasted.
Have you found ways of fighting food waste that you can incorporate into your everyday life?