Wanting not to waste

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Everyone has something that makes them quite annoying to live with. A tiny, wee thing that even you, the person with the least objective opinion in the world, can admit must be mildly irritating, writes Kate Oktay.

Kate Oktay
Kate Oktay

Licking the spoon and putting it back in Nutella. Never closing the toothpaste lid. Pretending the rubbish is not full and laying another wrapper, delicately, on an already teetering pile.

Mine is an unwillingness, bordering on an incapacity, to take the last of any food. I like to know I still have a little something. In case of an emergency. I have a fridge bulging with jars containing a teaspoon of capers, the spindly remains of three leaves of bok choi, bottles with an inch of mayonnaise or tomato sauce, half a cooked potato in a container with a quarter of a broccoli floret.

In case of an emergency. A tomato sauce emergency, where tomato sauce is required, but a third of a tablespoon is adequate.

This is compounded by the fact I don’t really like going in my garden and the compost is right down the end and it really needs a sort out. I stuff scraps of food that should have been eaten an age ago into containers. Two ceramic dishes, a big glass container, a stainless steel bowl, all jammed on the porch for a week, looking at me disapprovingly whenever I cross the threshold.

My husband, hating chores anyway, and hating outside chores absolutely, merrily shoves orange peels and spinach roots into the rubbish regardless of requests not to. In fairness, the collection of piled up insanity outside the front door attracting soft, shifting clouds of fruit flies may have something to do with his reluctance.

Anyway. We are not great at food waste. Even though I know that reducing it is one of the best things you can do to lessen your contribution to climate change. Aside from voting, veganism, bike riding, and rioting. All of which seem far more committed.

In fact, this feels so important, and so [cough] fairly easy [cough] that it seems the natural next step on my ode to environmental evangelism. And Andrea Egan, Sustainable goddess, UN climate change projects specialist, and helping hand in turning my slothful and wasteful life around, told me to.

While being lazy is nice, it will be even nicer not to have the background hum of guilt when I put half a bendy carrot in the trash because I kept it for too long and then ran out of makeshift compost containers.

When food waste goes to landfill, unlike when it is composted, it decomposes in an oxygen free environment because it is compressed and covered. This causes it to emit methane, a greenhouse gas that is 21 times more powerful than CO2, Andrea tells me. Not all the methane can be captured, and apparently, on a global scale, food waste contributes about 8% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

Researching meant that I saw damning studies like the one in Auckland that showed that half of what households send to landfill is compostable, and another that showed New Zealanders throw away an eighth of the food they buy. Inconveniently, knowing things like that makes continuing to do nothing impossible, if you don’t want a knot of culpability tightening in the pit of your stomach every time you look at the wilted lettuce that’s too far past eating in the back of your fridge.

So, a month ago I trudged up to the garden with a spade and spent an afternoon fixing up the compost. Then I bought a bucket with a lid, and paid the smallest member of the household in lollypops to lug it up to the top of the section and dump it every week. And, for the past four weeks I have eaten the last of everything; remembering childhood dinners of leftover quiche, leftover curry, leftover hash, and leftover patties and pasta and pilaf and pies.

It was actually much easier than making food from scratch. Dinner is fairly painless when you mix a bunch of cooked food and whatever vege is looking limp and unhappy with flour and whack a poached egg on top. When you have a pathological need to make your own pasta, condiments, and slowly simmered stock, a dinner that takes 15 minutes is an extra 75 minutes of your life you just got back and comes with a warm side of virtuousness.

Plus, now I have loads more room in my fridge that I can fill with panic-bought cheese for an actual emergency.

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