Lagom är bäst. The right amount is best. With the average UK household throwing away £470 worth of food every year* can the Lagom approach help us?
The impact of food waste reaches far beyond our bank accounts. If food loss and waste were a country, they would be the third largest contributor to greenhouse gasses behind China and the United States (WRAP).
According to WRAP, the food that is grown for human consumption and subsequently wasted accounts for a quarter of the water used by agriculture globally.
It’s not just the process of producing and transporting food that has an impact on the environment. Have you ever wondered what happens to the food that you throw away?
Unless you’re composting your waste (and good for you if you are), it gets piled up on a landfill site, where it can take years to break down. This process generates a potent greenhouse gas, methane, which has a warming potential 21 times higher than carbon dioxide (Love Food Hate Waste).
And what about all that single-use plastic? We just don’t need it! Unless you’ve had your head in the sand you’ll know that the earth is literally drowning in plastic. A large proportion of food packaging can’t easily be recycled and even where it can, we produce too much to keep up!
Taking a more planned approach to buying and preparing food can result in a massive reduction in your contribution to the plastic problem. Plus, as a responsible adult who can (hopefully) be trusted with a blade, do you really need to pay extra to have somebody cut and package your vegetables for you?
So, even if you can afford to waste £470 a year, cutting down on food waste is in all of our best interests.
KonMari your cupboards
Before you get stuck into anything else, you need to take stock of where you are now.
Work systematically through your kitchen cupboards, fridge and freezer. Take everything out (this is probably where you’ll discover you might need to clean them) and group items together that are alike.
I recently went through this exercise and found separate open packets of the same kinds of pasta, rice, all sorts of stuff!
This is where you might need to waste some food if you find anything out of date or open packets that have become contaminated but don’t feel too bad. This is where we reset and move on.
Once you’re happy your cupboards are clean, don’t just pile all the food back in. Use clear containers to group items into categories. Dry ingredients can go directly into jars or boxes so you can see exactly what you have and buy when it’s running out. This way you won’t be finding odd duplicates of open packets lurking anywhere.
You don’t need to spend lots of money on organising your food. Save the jars from jams, sauces and pickles to store all kinds of dried foods, as well as leftovers. Give a new lease of life to any old Tupperware you found lurking as you were tidying up.
Use what you have, but if you need more you can pick up some perfect storage solutions inexpensively at Ikea. I love the Ikea 365+ container for bulk carbs like oats and rice. Korken jars come in a range of sizes – I use the larger ones for pasta, the medium ones for home-made sauces and the smallest are great for herbs and spices. You can also try the Rajtan jars for spices.
With a tidy kitchen, you’re ready to start your new zero waste lifestyle.
Buy what you need
Now that you know what you’ve got, it should be easier to plan your shopping for the week ahead.
Cut the time spent at the supermarket with a shopping list based on what you actually need. I find that writing a weekly menu makes it easy for me to shop. Once a week, I’ll sit down with my favourite recipe books, decide what to cook and copy only the ingredients I need for those recipes onto my list.
A less time-consuming technique is to take a photo of the contents of your fridge so that you know what you need to re-stock. If you refer back to the photo while you’re shopping, you can think about what you need to buy to turn those left-overs you’ve got hanging around into a tasty meal.
If you go into the supermarket with a plan, you can whizz around the aisles a lot faster. You can even try writing your shopping list based on the layout of your local store. This way, you can skip whole sections because you know exactly where you need to be.
Be careful not to be drawn into multi-buy offers. For many of us, what seems like a bargain deal can lead us to buy more than we need but guess where that excess ends up? The bin. Or gathering dust at the back of the cupboard.
Savings on the items that are actually in your plan are a bonus. If there’s a multi-buy or bulk savings on an ingredient you use frequently that can be stored in the cupboard or freezer then go for it. Otherwise, resist the temptation.
Make your own lunch
According to a survey conducted by Visa in 2014, the average UK worker spends £2,500 on lunch, snacks and coffees every year (The Telegraph)
£2,500! Imagine what else you could do with that money! Of course, bringing lunch from home isn’t exactly free, but it normally costs a lot less (especially if you use your leftovers).
It’s not just your bank balance that will look a bit healthier. The average UK supermarket lunch deal can contain over 1,000 calories and up to 30 teaspoons of sugar, as well as all sorts of other nasties (The Independent).
We all know the dangers of too much fat, sugar and salt so we’re far less likely to add them in excessive amounts when we prepare food for ourselves.
Making food in advance that can be stored in microwave-ready portions saves time and money. Dried grains and pulses cost very little but make soups and stews more filling. Add some seasonal root veg and bulk cook in the Vardesatta pressure cooker for a supply of lunches to last the week (and maybe beyond).
If you don’t have a microwave or fridge at work, the Efterfragad will keep food warm or cold for hours. I used mine on a long train journey recently. I reheated my leftover shepherd’s pie before I left home at 08:30 and it was still piping hot at 12:30.
If you’re more of a grazer, the IKEA 365+ lunch box with inserts is perfect. Buying whole fruits and vegetables and preparing them at home is infinitely cheaper than buying them pre-prepared in pots and bags. Think of the plastic waste you’ll avoid too!
Istad bags are made from bioplastics, using byproducts from the sugar cane industry. They can be used to carry a variety of snacks and can be washed and reused over and over, then recycled when they get really worn out. Bulk-buying things like nuts and sweet treats then portioning them out is another double-winner – save cash and use less plastic in one hit!
Keep hydrated throughout the day by taking your own drink. The Eftersokt travel mug has a no-spill lid and keeps your drink warm. If you need a top-up on the go, many coffee shops now offer a discount on refills. For cold drinks, the IKEA 365+ water bottle is perfect. Make sure you download the Refill app so you can see where you can refill with water for free.
Grow your own
According to a recent survey on the Live Lagom Facebook group, one of the most commonly wasted food items is bagged salad. According to The Guardian, per calorie growing lettuce produces more greenhouse gases such as methane than rearing pork. The production, harvesting and packaging process is also terrifyingly water-intensive. All so that we can throw away 40% of all the bagged salads we buy.
Most bagged salad doesn’t even come in packaging that can be recycled easily, if at all. All this waste seems even more maddening when you discover just how easy it is to grow salad at home.
As a serial plant-killer, the Krydda/Vaxer hydroponic system was my last-ditch attempt to cultivate at least some of my own food. I’d previously only had luck with chillis so I was desperate to broaden my variety of crops.
Whilst my adventures in indoor gardening have had varied results (can anyone actually get cilantro to grow!), the one thing that I’ve had no trouble with is salad. Leaves like bok choi, endive and chicory seem to grow at such a rate I’ve started to blame them for hogging the light from the other plants.
The Krydda/Vaxer set takes very little room so even those who live in smaller properties with no outdoor space can grow their own crops and ditch those salad bags.
If you have space (and possibly the patience), don’t stop there. Growing your own can become quite an addictive hobby. There’s an immense sense of pride you’ll get when you eat something that you’ve nurtured from a seedling, especially when it tastes better than anything you normally buy.
Still not convinced? If gardening really isn’t your thing, you can still cut waste and reduce food miles (reducing CO2 emissions) by buying fresh produce that was grown locally. Search online to find the best local grocers, farmers markets and farm shops. Kungfors bags are perfect for transporting and storing your purchases.
Feeling inspired? Head to Love Food Hate Waste for more ideas, news and advice.
Disclaimer: I am not paid by IKEA, although they have kindly helped me on my Lagom journey with free merchandise.