Meet my latest ally in the war against food waste: Chipie, aka Goaty McGoat Face. Handsome, isn’t he?
Goaty and his two allies have been an unexpected bonus of my current (temporary) home in rural southwest France. I’ve never been terribly fond of goats, but I’m warming to these three every day. They’re becoming increasingly keen on me too, mostly because I’ve become the bringer of unexpected treats. I used to think goats would eat anything, but these ones are quite discerning (they are French, after all). They don’t fancy egg shells very much, are a bit sniffy about orange peel and look askance at onion skins. However, they LOVE leftover rice or pasta, adore stale bread and are quite partial to apple cores. I think they might be my spirit animals.
Food waste is a major issue in France, as it is in much of the world. The UN estimates that about one-third of all the food produced in the world is thrown away or wasted. People in industrialised countries waste around 222 million tonnes of food every year – which is about the same amount of food as produced in sub-Saharan Africa. To me, this is appalling.
In 2016, France was hailed as a world leader in reducing food waste after it passed legislation that required large supermarkets donate unsold food to charities. This is a good start in a country where industrial food production is an art form and one that many other countries could emulate. I fear that the real problem is that commercial food production has changed the way people eat so much that food is no longer valued in any way. How do you expect people to respect what they eat when they’re being urged to ‘buy one get one free’ at every turn? At that price, it doesn’t matter if the item goes off or you don’t eat it, does it? Then again, most things that are offered in this way are so denatured that they’ll probably never go off anyway. But I digress.
Even if you eschew commercially produced food there will be food waste of some sort. Sure, you can make radish leaf pesto and find 101 uses for a stale baguette (this is a life skill that I am particularly proud of, especially now), but what about vegetable peelings, three-day-old leftover rice and tomato stalks? At the moment, this is where the goats come in. Unfortunately, I won’t be in a position to take them with me when I return to New Zealand later in the year, but I do have a few other ideas.
Thanks to The Very Green Gardener, my Wellington garden is home to a worm farm that deals with the bulk of our food waste. Worms aren’t as cute as goats and they’re also a bit fussy (they don’t like citrus, onion skins or meat). But boy, they are certainly efficient! If you want to know what true smugness is, feed your worms the peelings or ends of vegetables that you grew yourself, nurtured by vermicast and worm wee that your own worms produced. Worm farms are ideal for people who fear that a compost bin will turn into a rat hotel (that’s me) or those with not much space. I can’t recommend them highly enough.
The most obvious thing we can all do starts well before the food turns into ‘waste’. I feel anxious when I read reports claiming that people no longer have the interest or skills to cook because I believe they are losing connection with the natural world, with social heritage and with what should be a basic human skill. If you can’t feed yourself or those around you, what hope do you have? Being able to cook means being able to liberate yourself from Big Food and shrinkwrapped food that bares little or no resemblance to anything natural. Being able to cook means knowing how to shop so you’re not wasting money or time. Being able to cook means you can stretch not much into dinner.
The photo above is a case in point. It’s not fancy – an onion, some lardons and a ripped-up stale baguette fried in a splash of olive oil, tossed with some spaghetti and a handful of ‘haricots beurres’ (along with a splash of the pasta cooking water) – but it was fast, delicious and cost about 3 Euros to make. The goats ate the bean ends and the onion skin will hopefully break down to nourish the earth. It’s not much, but it’s a start.