WE'RE quite used to hearing how great our produce is – not being told our food is rubbish.
The truth is Australians throw out 4 million tonnes of food every year: a few uneaten vegies here, a bit of porridge there; it adds up.
Apart from being a waste of money (about $1000 a household each year), tossing food scraps in the bin means they are eventually buried as landfill where they'll produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas. The answer is to add air, or worms, to the equation, and instead of a harmful gas, we're producing nutrient-rich compost.
"Sending organic waste to landfill is a missed opportunity for cooks and gardeners," says Arabella Forge, a nutritionist, author and Good Food columnist.
"We could reduce our waste by almost half by recycling organic matter in our own backyards."
And you don't need much of a backyard to compost. Some councils, such as Yarra City Council in inner-Melbourne, where space is at a premium, are trialling community composting sites for those with no backyard.
Cultivating Community (cultivatingcommunity.org.au) is a non-profit organisation which works with councils to reduce food waste and encourage community gardens.
The organisation's Peter Huff says community composting "is part of a broader program that includes providing information about food waste avoidance, how to shop for food more efficiently [planning], and get more out of the food we buy [storing and using more of each product, such as broccoli stems and edible peels]".
Even after planning meals, shopping for fewer items more often, properly storing food and leftovers, and perhaps washing but not peeling some vegetables (potatoes and carrots), some waste is unavoidable. This includes banana skin, stones from fruit and avocado, and bones – plus all the stuff the children have inspected, tasted and rejected. But there is a composting solution for every household.
• A compost bin will take most organic waste, including teabags, eggshells (crush them first), vegetable and fruit peelings, coffee grounds and garden clippings.
• For healthy compost, balance greens (which are quick to rot, and add nitrogen and moisture) and browns (slower to decompose but contribute carbon and fibre, which allows air pockets to form). The ratio is about 25:1, greens to browns.
• If you set up the bin in direct sun, it will help the contents to break down more quickly.
• Turn it every week. If it is smelly, add lime, dolomite or woodfire ash.
• Keep a lidded container in the kitchen (saves traipsing out to the compost bin a few times a day).
• Good for smaller spaces; takes food scraps and soil (not garden clippings).
• Keep farm in a cool, shady spot.
• Worms have no teeth so you'll need to cut up their food – the smaller, the better – and they don't like strong flavours, such as citrus, garlic and onion.
The Bokashi (bokashi.com.au) system uses beneficial microbes to ferment organic waste in an airtight bucket that can fit under the sink. Because it's airtight, waste doesn't smell, so you can add a small amount of dairy and meat – things you wouldn't usually add to the compost.
These walking recyclers will eat porridge and grains, but probably not as much as you'd like them to. With chooks, food scraps go in one end and fertiliser comes out the other.
All of the above
With a Bokashi, worm farm, compost bin and chooks you can pretty much recycle everything.
But there are limits to what can be composted.
Add to Bokashi, or grate into frittata.
Fish, meat and bones
Buy a whole chicken or fish and boil the bones for stock, which will freeze well, too.
Fats and oils
Strain and reuse then, when exhausted, add to compost in small amounts.
Add to compost in small amounts along with ash, which will help neutralise the acid.
Non-profit Foodwise (foodwise.com.au) has a handy tool with which you can type in your ingredient (say, avocado) and it will find relevant recipes. It also has loads of recipes from food celebs from Australia (Neil Perry, Kylie Kwong) and Britain (Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall; Paul, Stella & Mary McCartney).
You could also consider making dishes such as:
Frittata: throw in leftover pasta or rice, and cheese. Neil Perry's garden greens frittata (pictured above).
Bubble and squeak or patties – bind leftovers with flour and egg. Stephanie Alexander recipe.
Soup or stock – all those limp vegies make great broth. (See Arabella Forge recipe below.)
Risotto balls – from leftover risotto, with a cube of mozzarella in the middle and breadcrumb coating. Mushroom risotto balls.
Dessert – bread-and-butter pudding, or blitz stale cake to make a topping for all the sagging fruit you just stewed
- Five things to do with leftover bread
- Five things to do with leftover rice
- Five things to do with Christmas leftovers
Chicken feet stock (Arabella Forge)
The best stock comes from offcuts.
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: at least 5 hours
Makes: 5 litres
2kg chicken feet and offcuts (carcasses and wingettes)
1/2 cup apple-cider or wine vinegar
1 large onion
2 or 3 carrots, parsnips or turnips (or a combination)
3 or 4 celery sticks, including the leaves
1 bunch fresh thyme or rosemary
1 heaped teaspoon black peppercorns
a few slices of fresh ginger
Put the chicken into a large pot and cover with cold water. Add the vinegar and slowly bring to a simmer.
Meanwhile, chop the vegetables and herbs. When the water is simmering, add them to the pot.
Simmer, partly covered, for at least 5 hours. Check the water levels from time to time to ensure the chicken is covered with water.
When you've finished cooking, drain and discard the solids and retain the liquid.
This recipe is from Frugavore: How to Grow Your Own, Buy Local, Waste Nothing and Eat Well by Arabella Forge (Black Inc.)
Left-over porridge slice (Arabella Forge)
1 cup leftover porridge
4 whisked eggs
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon grated ginger
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon arrowroot powder
1/4 cup honey
Place the ingredients in a bowl and mix well.
Pour mixture into a greased baking tin, and top with finely chopped fruit such as apples or pears.
Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180 degrees for 40 mins or until lightly browned and cooked through.
International Composting Awareness Week (www.compostweek.com.au) May 6-11, 2013