FOOD WASTE AND LEFTOVERS ADVICE:
RECONSIDERING TAKEAWAYS, READY-MEALS, GRAVY AND CONVENIENCE FOOD… DEFANCIFYING THE MESSAGE…
Hubbub is a UK organisation using creative, participatory events to reduce domestic food waste. Two of their projects are on my mind right now. #PumpkinRescue is all about giving Halloween pumpkins a culinary afterlife. (I hope to take part in a Disco Soup event in Salford; check out events in your area.) #ExpressYourShelf asks people to prepare meals based on what they have on hand, and take “shelfies.” Here’s what we got up to last year at this time.
Fun. Meanwhile, the estimable Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is soon coming out with a new book and tv series on leftovers, “all about creating delicious meals from all those bits and bobs that are leftover from the last meal we cooked, ” says he.
Conversations about “leftovers” are everywhere these days, as concern mounts about food waste and its ecological impact, as well as the moral issue of throwing out edible food in light of local and global hunger– all pretty well summarised in the video posted above. Food waste is a large and multifaceted problem, with domestic waste being one part of that; I like to think that by not wasting food individuals can save money and be empowered to discuss and act on systemic problems too. Connecting different levels.
On the whole I’m pretty good at not wasting — except when life and work get busy and I lose focus on the shopping/cooking nexus– but that’s the point. Not wasting in our world of excess and too-muchness requires a focus and becomes a task and priority in itself that needs to be made easier.
So we might have to do things differently.
As educators about leftovers (counting myself in) we need to simplify, not complicate. And offering new recipes as we often do can be part of the problem in terms of how these are constituted to require specific ingredients in specific amounts. And point to foods and dishes that are outside many people’s preferred repertoires– people define themselves as much by what they eat as what they don’t eat (because those other people eat “that”).
(Consider this selection (not to single out but because it’s not untypical: these are recipes for full-blown foodies not people earnestly trying to rescue/ use the measly amount of pumpkin they have from a Halloween purchase. Aspirational might be the word.)
I’m really aware that The Leftover Movement so often can’t see something really basic: that lots of people don’t love cooking (not even necessarily that they are not skilled or experienced), don’t chose to spend precious time cooking (or even have it) and perhaps feel it as a chore. I also perceive the echo chamber in which “we” promote a culture of food (posting Guardian recipes in our community gardens, for instance) that ups the ante so much — and assumes political/ cultural and perhaps financial homogeneity. Everything must be homemade… Status accrued from global culinary awareness, experience of travel, sophisticated, unusual ingredients and spices… Instead we need to meet people where they are, what they feel they can manage, if we aim to reduce waste sympathetically to the real lives of people.
Good food, local food, nourishing, filling, affordable food, also needn’t exist in a vacuum separated from convenience, even if it’s less than perfect. For this idea, I’ve been really influenced by this article In Praise of Fast Food by the food historian Rachel Lauden.
Thus I give two vignettes today, one is about takeaways, one is about gravy.
I bought a Jack-O-Lantern style pumpkin with the express thought to cook it and use it, to experiment with what I have long assumed was a kind of squash NOT grown so much for delicious culinary expression (other orange-fleshed squashes taste nicer) as for the lucrative Halloween kitsch market.
I cut it in half and baked it/ roasted in a hot oven for half an hour.
What I found was– after using the skin, seed, seed fibre and fluid in a vegetable stock* — and then straining the roasted pumpkin so that it was less watery (I know, I’m not supposed to be advocating here for excessive cooking)–
I simply mixed it in with leftover takeaway curry. And it occurred to me that mixing with takeaway (or supermarket Ready Meals / frozen dinners for that matter) is as good a use for food that would be wasted as cooking a fresh meal. And obviously the addition of something fresh makes these meals taste better too. (My mother called that “doctoring-up.”)
Sorry I don’t have a picture, but the cauliflower and chick pea curries, united in a puree of roasted pumpkin, was really, really good. Domestic food-waste advocates: Let’s start thinking EASY, and just mixing foods in with what we already have might be one idea. Or just eating stuff plain? Just NOT throwing away… making what happens to exist our dinner rather than fancifying? Or….
Uniting with Gravy: #ExpressYourShelf
Lots of odd portions of leftovers were in our fridge, and it felt like a “Ready, Steady, Cook” dinner-with-leftovers moment. (In fact, what a good idea for an event!).
We’d had wonderful French exchange students and were trying to feed them “British” food. My husband had made Toad in the Hole (“Crapeau dans le Trou“) which was a success and made them laugh. He’d served it with mashed potatoes and frozen green beans. There was a little of everything leftover. In the back of the fridge was also a not small pot of cauliflower cheese.
I took them all out of their tupperware homes and arranged them in a baking dish.
The mash and the Yorkshire Pudding pancake-y leftovers from the Toad in the Hole:
with the green beans, the sausages, and the cauliflower:
And was inspired by how these people, the British, among whom count my children, love their gravy– home-made (you know, pan drippings and flour on the Aga kind of thing) and convenient, and clearly market driven, given the range of options and prime supermarket shelf space given to these gravies in various states of readiness (you don’t even have to mix some of them).
(this is not my culture so I don’t know the subtle socio-cultural assumptions of the brands, have asked friends to accompany me to the shops to talk me through this.)
Whoops! I’d brought it home and there was Palm Oil in it! But not the first ingredient and I’d perused lazily. Hey Bisto, get out of Palm Oil!
The sodium content does seem pretty horrendous too but I can pretend there wasn’t a lot of salt in anything else (except the sausages).
I mixed up the powder with water, stirred and heated it in a pan with a whisk, served it with all the leftovers baked together, and my son and I supped happily.
And thus I’ve become an advocate of convenience gravy, perhaps though not necessarily a gateway to homemade gravy–
(and on this note may I say #PumpkinRescue, that pumpkin bits make a *soup stock that is wonderful in gravies, thickened with butter and flour, and maybe umami‘ed-up with tamari, soy or mushroom powder, a little red or white wine, or even a little marmite, and perhaps some onions… Of course you could make a gravy and add a little powdered gravy mix in there too.)