All over the world, holidays mean the return of certain specialties: Olivier salad for New Year’s in Russia, Red bean porridge for solstice in Korea, Haleem for Ramadan in India and the Middle East, Mince pies for Christmas in England, Pogača bread for Orthodox Easter, Banana cakes for Lunar New Year in Vietnam.
Whatever the holiday is and wherever in the world it is celebrated, there is usually a type of special food that goes along with it.
The holidays are a great time to celebrate food and to appreciate it.
Yet, in some parts of the world, holidays have become synonymous with over-eating and food waste. In 2011, FAO estimated that *1/3 of all the food produced in the world is either lost or wasted. That amounts to 1.3 billion tons per year. And food isn’t the only thing that is wasted when it goes uneaten: all of the resources (like seeds, water, feed, etc.), money and labour that go into making it are also lost.
While we celebrate the people and ideas that we value, let us make saving food one of them.
Here are six tips on how to avoid and reduce holiday food waste:
1- Be realistic – Plan in advance and don’t prepare food for 50 people if only 5 are coming to dinner.
2- Freeze leftovers or give them to guests – If you do cook too much food, encourage guests to take some home with them. Whatever is left, put it promptly in the freezer for another day. In general, food should not be left at room temperature for longer than two hours.
3- Turn the leftover food into the next day’s lunch or dinner – There are many creative recipes on the internet for using leftovers. In fact, several dishes like casseroles, goulash, fattoush and panzanella started from the desire not to waste fruits, vegetables or even excess, bread. Make sure that you store any leftovers in the refrigerator and use it as soon as possible.
4- Finish leftovers before making something new – The instinct to make something different for every meal is quite common, but before cooking a new dish, see if you have anything already prepared and still safe to eat to finish first. Alternatively, turn your old leftovers into a new dish. Just remember to avoid re-heating food and then putting it back into the refrigerator later.
5- Allow guests to serve themselves so they can choose as much or as little as they want – As nice as it is to serve people, a host might not accurately gage how much or how little someone wants to eat, and usually errs on the side of too much. Allowing guests to serve themselves means that they can choose the amount that they would like to eat. (As a food waste tip for guests: when a meal is self-serve, don’t take more than you can eat!)
6- Donate what you don’t use – If you buy extra cans, dried goods or other non-perishable food that can be donated, there are many local charities that happily accept these foods. Check the internet for places near you that accept donations.
This holiday, remember that having enough food is a privilege. Don’t waste it!
*Editor’s note: The estimate which suggested that approximately 1/3 or 30 percent of the world’s food was lost or wasted every year was calculated by FAO in 2011 as a broad, preliminary estimate. The figure is currently being replaced with two separate indicators, the Food Loss Index and the Food Waste Index, to give more insight into the problem. In 2019, FAO calculated the Global Food Loss Indicator (food lost from post-harvest up to but not including retail) at 14 percent. The Food Waste Index (food lost in retail and at the consumer level) is currently being developed by UN Environment (UNEP).