Christmas is just around the corner, and so is New Year’s Eve, which means that many of us will be gathering with family and friends for lunches, dinners and parties, but with all the Holiday cheer, let’s not forget to be sensible about our consumption habits.
Who does the cooking?
Every family and every circle of friends has different traditions and different ways of doing things during the Holidays. Some people just show up to lunch or to dinner and leave all the cooking to one or two designated people, others share responsibility and each chip in with a dish. It doesn’t matter what your way of doing things is, the important thing is to make sure nothing will go to waste. According to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) in fact “Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted”. The average annual food waste increases dramatically during the Holiday season, with Thanksgiving being one of the biggest holidays in which there's an extraordinary excess of food. More specifically, a 2015 UK survey estimated that the amount of food wasted during the festive season is equivalent to scraping more than 4.2 million Christmas dinners into the bin. On its own, the gravy that is thrown down the drain every year would be more than enough to fill an entire olympic sized pool!
Curious to read more numbers? Unilever’s Project Sunlight, which is working with Oxfam to provide meals to those in need in the UK, also highlighted that among the 4 million tonnes of perfectly edible food that is thrown away in the UK during the month of December, there are 263,000 turkeys, 5 million Christmas puddings, 74 million mince pies and more than 170 tonnes of sprouts – enough to collectively fill the Great Pyramid of Giza.
Why does this much food get wasted?
There is no simple explanation as to why so much food is wasted during the Holidays, it’s just an overload of the same exact reasons for which we waste food during the rest of the year. For example, people tend to buy more food than they actually need, poor planning, storing items improperly (meaning that it goes bad quicker than it normally would have), or simply people do not understand how to read and interpret labels.
Researchers that have focused on understanding why there is such a rise in food waste around the holidays have come to the conclusion that its all down to the disruption of habits and routines. It’s a time in which we may have a little more free time, we may engage in activities we don’t usually engage in, and most importantly, we may find ourselves preparing meals for a larger number of people than what we are usually used too. All of these routines changes, mean that our shopping habits vary during this season.
It’s normal for hosts to want to make sure that there’s enough food to go around, so instead of preparing ‘just enough’ they might want to stay on the safe side and prepare a little bit (or a little too much) more than is actually necessary. Plus, if your fridge is fuller than usual, it may also be more complicated keeping an eye on everything, and therefore not noticing when items start going bad in order to salvage some of it.
Limit food waste without leaving guests hungry
Make a plan and make a list. Be sure you know exactly what you are making and exactly what you will be needing before you head out shopping. If you always spend the holidays with the same group (number) or people and have your staple recipes that you prepare each year, make sure to write down exactly the amount you are using, and at the end of the day make a note to remind yourself the next time around if the amount you prepared was enough, so you don’t make the same mistakes again.
Know your ingredients. Know when to buy the things you need in order to not go shopping to early during the week and risk items going bad. Also make sure you are storing them correctly and following the instructions on the labels.
If things haven’t really gone to plan, in the sense that your planning hasn’t really worked out and you had in fact prepared too much, don’t worry! Today’s leftovers are tomorrow’s meal! If you know that one of the guests really enjoyed a particular dish, wrap it up for them and surprise them with their very own take away meal complete with instructions on how best to reheat the dish or enjoy it the next day.
What you decide to keep for yourself can be eaten the next day, or can be frozen. If you do decide to have it at a later date remember to store in correctly and label it so you know exactly what it is and how long you have before it goes bad. Leftovers are great, and with a little creativity they can turn into completely new dishes and meals!
Is there something that nobody wants or that won’t survive the next day and can’t be frozen? Compost!
Whatever you do, don’t let all the resources that have gone into getting that food to your table go to waste.
Looking for other sustainable Holidays tips? Are you traveling during the next couple of weeks? Will you be eating out more? Are you still a couple of gifts short?
Here are some other articles to help you out!