How to avoid food waste when entertaining

Frances Moldaschl - zero waste week guest bloggerToday I’m sharing a guest post from Frances, who talks about hospitality and how it can lead to food waste.

It’s hard to pinpoint when hospitality became almost synonymous with excess. Perhaps it was the post-war years, when food became more readily available and people wanted to celebrate by enjoying long-forgotten tastes. Perhaps it happened with the introduction of glossy housekeeping magazines which offered recipes for how to impress the all-powerful Joneses. Or perhaps it happened much earlier, when Mrs Beeton released her famous household manual, and it’s only now that a significant number of us have the means to indulge in grand banquets. Regardless, when we think of entertaining, of ‘treating’ someone in regards to food, our minds instantly wander to elaborate dishes, displayed with restaurant-like precision on pretty china.

So, so often, when we cook for friends we’re guilty of cooking far too much – of eating far too much, too – and this trickles down into everyday life. If we make too much pasta for a party on Saturday and dispose of the leftovers, then on Sunday when we cook too many potatoes the waste seems less by comparison. We suffer less guilt at throwing away perfectly good food. And the more we do this, the more normal it becomes until eventually – without even thinking twice – we’re throwing away entire meal-sized portions.

It’s so easy to turn leftovers into brand new meals, and it isn’t a new concept. Classic foods like bubble and squeak were invented for this very reason. So why aren’t we doing it?

In our consumerist culture, the idea that high cost equates to high quality permeates through everything. Why should you settle for common tap water when you could have bottled? Even though tap water is far fresher – having not sat around in plastic for weeks/months – there’s something appealing about the image of unscrewing the cap of something glistening and clear and exclusive. The water in the bottle has a label, it’s been produced somehow… it’s a luxury product that’s cheap enough for most of us to be able to afford which is precisely what makes it so desirable – you’d have to have a pretty good reason not to buy it, not to want a part of that aspirational image.

The same goes for entertaining, and for food in general. Why wouldn’t you buy a beautiful packaged, pre-iced cake to serve at a birthday party – it’s so much easier? Why wouldn’t you buy individually wrapped biscuits to have with a cuppa – they stay much fresher? Why wouldn’t you plate up a whole jar of baby food, even though you know most of it isn’t going to be eaten – that’s how much they’re supposed to eat at a meal? Why wouldn’t you buy a kilo of carrots, already in a bag, instead of the single one the recipe calls for – they’re cheaper this way and you’ll probably use them? The convenience or prestige of all these things is what makes them dangerous, both in terms of packaging waste and food waste. What do you do with all those extra carrots? Where does the cake-box with its glorious window go when you’re done with it?

So what’s to be done? It seems as though a quiet revolution is starting – years ago a TV show called Economy Gastronomy spoke about how home-cooking could make mealtimes tastier and more cost effective by cutting out waste. In more recent years, Jamie Oliver offered up a host of recipes to make us consider our food spending and use our leftovers. And perhaps most prominently, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall has campaigned against supermarket waste. Our excesses are being brought to our attention and all of us are horrified – of our spending, of our waste, of our lifestyles.

And while this is being brought to light, we can fight the good fight too – we can reduce our food spending and ensure we do use up what we buy. We can make conscientious choices to purchase unpackaged goods, or make things ourselves. We can choose to serve our friends a jug of tap water when they come to visit, or to place trays of food in the centre of the table so that people can help themselves to what they can eat – then the leftovers remain together and we can see them for what they are; a potato salad waiting to be made, the filling for tomorrow’s sandwiches, or a microwave meal for the freezer. These are all simple things, but that’s what’s great about them – we can all get on board, they cost nothing (and in a lot of cases, will save us money), and are sustainable. TV shows and media coverage are great, but we really are what makes the difference. In this case, one person really can change the world.

Frances Moldaschl  is a Scottish mum of two, currently living in the Aberdeenshire hills with her Danish husband. When she isn’t writing, she can usually be found hoarding craft supplies and drinking too much tea.

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Rachelle Strauss

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