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The hustle and bustle of London life means that many Londoners trade time in the kitchen for eating on the go or ordering in.
We’re equally casual about our food shopping — some of us barely glancing up from our emails as we chuck whatever looks tempting into our trollies.
Our impromptu approach to food means London households produce more food waste than any other part of the UK: the capital throws away 900,000 tons of food each year. This is not just a terrible waste of groceries and money, it’s also damaging our planet.
Ali Moore, head of communications for Small Change, Big Difference explains: “Food waste is possibly a greater problem in terms of climate change than plastics.
“When you throw away food, it doesn’t just rot down harmlessly; it either gets burned and releases carbon gases into the atmosphere or it goes into landfill and produces methane as it rots down. Methane is actually a climate change gas, so it’s a massive problem.”
In a bid to tackle the problem head on, Small Change, Big Difference (SCBD) is running a number of zero-waste cookery classes and workshops across the city until the end of October. Lots of them are completely free.
“If all of London quit meat one day a week, annual greenhouse gases would reduce by 450,000 tons”
Londonist decided to flex its culinary muscles by attending the Scraps to Scrumptious cookery class in Battersea. Run by chef Andrea Zick and Tried and Supplied founder Domini Hogg, the class is attended by a motley crew of city folk, NHS workers, tech bods and a couple of dedicated food bloggers.
Four of the group are vegan, which suits the class’ green approach to cooking perfectly. Reducing our meat intake is a big part of SCBD’s campaign. As it says on its website, if all of London quit meat one day a week, it would reduce annual greenhouse gases by 450,000 tons.
Before donning aprons, the group is given a masterclass in flavour combinations and texture matching by Hogg, who hands round raw mushrooms, pickles and candied peel. Hogg explains that along with things like roasting our vegetable peels, knowing what foods complement each other is key to reducing food waste. Seeing as one-fifth of the food we buy gets binned, this is obviously a skill we need to develop.
“The chef has a recipe for banana skin bacon and pickled watermelon rind”
“If you know that certain herbs work with certain vegetables, or that sugar lightens some dishes, you can make use of foods you would usually throw away as you couldn’t think what to do with them,” says Hogg.
Next, chef Zick sets us to work prepping goods provided by surplus food charity, City Harvest. The aim of the evening is to cook up a banquet while creating waste that will still fit into a small tub. Slightly squishy kiwis are made into a crumble. Dry bread is toasted up for croutons. Wilted leeks are whizzed into a hearty soup.
We get to work grating a mountain of peeled carrots, twinning them with oranges and cashews for a salad. The carrot peels are added to an increasingly full cauldron of bubbling soup. A master-stoke of chef Zick’s is to use the feathery carrot tops to make a pesto with nuts and plenty of garlic. The German cook also shares her recipes for banana skin bacon and pickled watermelon rind, although they aren’t on the menu tonight.
“It’s a sobering thought that all of the food here would have been thrown away”
Instead, ratatouille, chargrilled leeks, glazed carrots, coleslaw and several salads grace the table. As we tuck into our rich soup entree, it’s a sobering thought that all of the food before us would have been thrown away were it not for City Harvest. Each week the organisation collects enough food from London retailers and eateries to make 70,000 meals.
Industrial food waste is improving, thanks to such organisations and schemes, but our domestic food waste is actually getting worse, especially in the 18-44 age band. This Scraps to Scrumptious event really shows how leftover fridge fodder can be turned into a feast.
“There really are ways to use almost everything”
“I would never have thought of using broad bean shells in a ratatouille, but there really are ways to use almost everything. I’m definitely going to incorporate what I’ve learned today into my cooking,” marketing professional and food blogger Kim Lewis, tell us.
Graphic marketing professional Iza Szyszko agrees that she’s learned a lot: “It’s given me so many ideas, especially about things to do with bread. I’m Polish, so I buy a lot of bread and often it goes off before it gets eaten. The croutons were great.”
As we sit back from the table — possibly undoing the top button on our jeans — chef Zick proudly holds aloft the day’s food-waste. The plastic tub full of kiwi skins, eggshells and onion layers is all that hasn’t been used in a delicious multi-course meal for 10 people.
To find out more, and to make class bookings, visit the Small Change, Big Difference website