Food waste is a hot topic at the moment. According to WasteCap “one fourth of all food produced for human consumption goes to waste.” It’s clear that the amount of food that we throw away in restaurants, shops and homes across the world is absolutely absurd; an estimated 24 million slices of bread and 86 million chickens are thrown out in the UK alone each year. Most of this food is perfectly safe to eat, with spurious sell-by-dates and over production causing good food to be wasted prematurely. Recently, there have been some promising first steps in the battle against waste. The French Government recently changed the law to require supermarkets to donate unsold food. Joost Bakker and Dan Barber, have been successful in setting up no-waste restaurants by using leftovers for different functions in the restaurant system, such as scraps to feed animals, natural yeasts to bake bread and mustard oil to fuel electricity.
Now it’s good to see the movement growing in momentum but actually the change needs to come from the consumer, rather than the producer. It’s easy to point the finger at big corporations and restaurants, but in reality, the blame lies in you and me. In higher income countries the largest contributor to food waste is the consumer, with 50% of food waste in the US occurring at home. In other words, it’s largely our own fault and up to us to evoke change. When I was a kid I used to find it infuriating when my parents tried to coax me into finishing my spinach by telling me that “people are starving in Africa”. I couldn’t comprehend how the leftover contents of my dinner were going to influence hungry children half way around the world, so never really felt motivated to scrape my plate clean. With the luxury of excess food in the West, it’s hard to feel the emergency of food shortage in other countries. Heck, even with so many people going hungry in our own country, we feel no real guilt at throwing away food when it’s a little bit bruised or past its’ sell-by date. This attitude, which I think holds true for many others, has lead to an inconceivable amount of food waste.
It’s interesting to look at this from a psychological perspective (I think I may be starting to overuse that phrase…). Many people over consume and waste food but deny responsibility. Perhaps our implicit value system around food has shifted as consumerism has grown. Throughout our evolutionarily history we have typically not had food in excess, often eating what we have gathered or hunted straight away. This means that, as animals, we are driven to place a high value upon food. Of course, with easy access to storage, appliances, packaging and supermarkets on every corner, we can be picky about the food we choose and when we eat it. So many people will refuse to eat a slightly-bruised banana with the knowledge that they can get another one on demand. Our pursuit for food that looks flawless and tastes sweet is actually causing us to breed the nutritional value out of many foods. Take fruit and veg – today’s apples contain less than half the phytonutrients found in the wild apples. Similarly, it’s kind of crazy to think that carrots were originally purple and were mutated to be orange just so they could be plumper and sweeter. This really represents a huge change in the value we place upon food.
We over consume without caring about waste because we are no longer threatened by the potential of famine or hunger. So many others around the world do not have this luxury to pick and chose their food based on how it looks. A recent study at the University of Bristol found that Kenyan participants, who often struggle to find food and go hungry, were highly reluctant to waste food due to the way they valued and respected food. This lead them to eat to the point of overwhelming fullness to avoid for fear that it would be thrown away. Sadly, because we are lucky enough to have a reliable and constant food source, our attitudes have become careless and disrespectful.
I’m as guilty of food waste as any anyone else, forgetting to use vegetables before they go off or mindlessly tossing away bits I don’t want, but I’m going to try and change my ways. A fundamental psychological shift is needed to create a feeling of social responsibility, and to make us view food as a valuable resource that should not be disregarded. As a start, we can recognise that food is perfectly edible even if it looks rough round the edges. Go to your fridge, grab the vegetables that you’d otherwise throw out (unless mouldy of course) and stick them in this curry. This recipe doesn’t discriminate, all types of leftover veg are accepted. Whether it’s a perfectly ripe and shiny aubergine or a slightly tired-looking mushroom that’s seen better days, they can all join the party.
Use-up-all-your-Leftovers Vegetable Curry:
Ingredients (feel free to substitute in which ever vegetables you wish!)
1 Large onion
3 Garlic cloves
1 tsp Turmeric
2 tsp Paprika
1 tsp Chilli flakes
1 tsp Ginger
1 tsp Nutmeg
1 tsp Cumin seeds
1 tsp Cumin
1/2 tsp Sumac
2 crumbled Kaffir lime leaves (optional)
1 tbsp Coconut oil
1/2 Butter nut squash
1 punnet Mushrooms
2 tbsps Tomato Purée
2 cans Coconut milk
1-2 Fresh Chillis (depending on how spicy you like it)
1 bunch Coriander – topping
1 tsp Desicated coconut – topping
1/2 Aubergine – topping
1 tsp Sunflower seeds – topping
1. Start to make curry paste by frying 1 chopped onion for 10 minutes in coconut oil until nicely softened.
2. Add chopped garlic and cook for a further 5 minutes.
3. Add all the spices, chopped chilli, tomato puree and an extra teaspoon of coconut oil
4. Stir until mixture over a medium heat for about 5-10 minutes, until the flavour has infused and resembles paste. Season well.
5. Add all the vegetables (feel free to substitute any for those you have left over or fancy using).
6. Stir well, adding more paprika, turmeric and cumin to the veg.
7. After 10 minutes, as the vegetables begin to soften, add one tin of coconut milk.
8. Bring to the boil and then leave on a medium heat for about 20-25 minutes until vegetables are soft and fragrant. If your curry is too dry (depending on the number of vegetables you’ve used, you can add an extra tin of coconut milk but make sure to add extra spices so you don’t lost flavour).
9. Stir in the chopped coriander, leaving some for garnish.
10. Meanwhile, coat the diced aubergine in coconut oil and roast in the over for 20-25 minutes, until crisp. Set aside.
11. Serve the curry in bowls topped with the crispy aubergine, sunflower seeds and chopped fresh coriander.