— Anh NGUYEN
There is nothing dumber than the food waste problem that humans are facing.
There is nothing more frustrating, horrendous, outrageous than to put so much energy and resources to produce, to transform, to store food and then throw them away.
In this video Food waste is the world’s dumbest problem by Vox – kudos to those who came up with this title – they point out simple ways to fight this, applied to people living in big cities who don’t have time for anything.
A side note: The Urban Monk could be a good book for busy people living in big cities to start changing their eating habit. In this book, Doctor Pedram Shojai gives you evidence of the old saying “you are what you eat”, and how come young professionals in big cities can eat as much salad as they want and still have the vitality level of a sloth. (Nothing against sloths though, they don’t live in big cities or have office jobs. Here are 10 incredible facts about sloths, in case you want to read more on these incredible creatures).
But I digress. Food. Waste
Bigger is not better
What are the simple ways to reduce food waste, according to Vox? First thing first, reduce the size of the refrigerator.
Current home refrigerators have increased in size since the 70s, giving consumers more space to store their food. This leads to the fact that they have a tendency to just fully stock the fridge, one thing upon another – so they forget about what they’ve bought and the food goes expired. Out of sight, out of mind, out to the trash bin.
I find this to be quite bizarre: also because we have more storage space, we put in the fridge what has been totally fine without being kept chilled before. Worse, they can even become less tasty being put in the cold. A gastronomical disaster. A waste of energy.
Maybe it is time that fridge designers and their marketing team worked on reducing the size of our fridges (Yes, marketing team as well, because these smaller fridges are not going to sell themselves.) Maybe instead of waiting for those manufacturers to even bat an eye at this problem, we consumers can learn to live without a fridge.
I tested this during 8 months when living in Paris: I turned off my fridge because it made too much noise during the night. This means I had to buy food more often than once per week, because there was no longer a storage option. If I bought cottage cheese, I had to consume it all in one go (I didn’t mind). If it was pressed cooked cheese, I could conserve it in a cold dark place for 2 days. I skipped on the butter though. None of the vegetables needs to be put into the refrigerator anyway so we’re good. If I wanted a cold beer or a glass of Chardonnay, I put them all outside the window for at least one hour in the evening, which did the job during chilling months. Basically, it is possible. And you probably will eat much fresher food.
If you opt for a badass way to store your food, an icehouse made of stone is an option worth looking at. These structures include “underground chambers, close to natural sources of winter ice such as freshwater lakes” or built “with various types of insulation” such as straw or sawdust.
I visited one in the chateau of Beaumesnil in Normandy, France that is no longer in use, but my friends at the École des semeurs turned it into a private concert hall due to its perfect dome structure. Even in June when it’s quite warm outside, it’s at least 5 to 10°C colder inside the ice house.
Yakhchāl is immensely cool but it seems too complex to build without slavery. Ice house requires quite a few land and materials to install. But this DIY evaporative cooler – as explained here in this guide – can be a much simpler option.
There are several main ways to preserve food, either through storage in specific conditions (physical), through fermentation (chemical) or by making a fruit jam (as the name indicates, this is mostly applied to fruits).
Ancient storage techniques
Root crops can be kept up to 6 months in the sand. In this guide, you’ll find different ways to store root crops with sand, including storing them directly in the ground, building a root cellar or even using broken refrigerators (hah!).
Fermentation is a universe in itself. In fancy terms, it means “a metabolic process that produces chemical changes in organic substrates through the action of enzymes”.
In more common terms, it means your food normally will turn sour, but still consumable and can be kept longer than its non-fermented state. Why? Because organic molecules (normally glucose) are converted into acids, gases, or alcohol in the absence of oxygen or any electron transport chain.
Fermented food is what we consume on a daily basis: beer, wine, bread, yoghurt, cheese, chocolate, miso, pickles, Tabasco sauce (what?) etc. Here’s a list of fermented foods on Wikipedia worth checking out.
Although food spoils much faster in a tropical climate, the Vietnamese will often store it without refrigeration, and instead take advantage of controlled decay.Aaron Vansintjan – Low-Tech Magazine
There are so many different variations around the world when it comes to fruit preserves. I made a table here to make our lives easier.
|Cheong||Sweetened foods in Korean cuisine. The name means “crafted honey” to describe human-made syrups. |
To make Cheong, you wash the vegetable or fruit of choice – put in a jar – add sugar – wait – remove the vegetable – wait that’s it. (Guide in French here). No cooking needed.
This practice is also common in other Asian countries (Vietnam, China, Japan…)
|Chutney||Condiments or sauces in the cuisines of the Indian subcontinent. Similar in preparation and usage to a pickle, simple spiced chutneys can be dated to 500 BC. |
They are almost always spicy. Chilli or chilli powder is one of the main ingredients. Adding sugar is optional and the amount is very little if added.
In India, chutney refers to fresh and pickled preparations indiscriminately; however, several Indian languages use the word for fresh preparations only.
|Confit (or jam)||The past participle of the French verb confire, “to preserve“, is most often applied to the preservation of meats, it is also used for fruits or vegetables seasoned and cooked with honey or sugar till jam-like.|
Confit is a cooking term describes when food is cooked in grease, oil or sugar water (syrup), at a lower temperature of 90°C
|Conserve (or whole fruit preserves)||Traditional whole fruit preserves are particularly popular in Eastern Europe (Russia, Ukraine, Belarus)|
Often the making of conserves can be trickier than making a standard jam, it requires cooking or sometimes steeping in the hot sugar mixture for just enough time to allow the flavour to be extracted from the fruit, and sugar to penetrate the fruit, and not cooking too long such that the fruit will break down and liquify.
Not suitable for fruits with tough skin, due to short cooking time.
|Jelly (or gelée in French)||Similar to jam, with an additional step of adding extra liquid (or gelatine or pectin) and filtering out the fruit pulp.|
|Marmalade||A fruit preserve made from the juice and peel of citrus fruits boiled with sugar and water. |
The word “marmalade” is borrowed from the Portuguese marmelada, from marmelo ‘quince‘.
|Ô mai||Ô mai (meaning black apricot in Vietnamese), is a medicine in the traditional medicine of some countries such as Vietnam and China, but now it has more the meaning of “preserved fruits”. |
The Chinese prepare it as follows: harvest the almost ripe apricots, then place them in macerated straw ash until they are ripe and finally they are dried in the sun.
The Vietnamese steam the almost ripe apricots to soften them and dry them in the sun 3 or 4 times. After drying, they impregnate them with bồ-hóng (type of fruit) juice and then bring them back to drying, and repeat this procedure several times. Another way to do this is to dry the green apricots in the kitchen to reach the black color.
Nowadays, ô mai means dried preserved fruits in a larger sense, and you can make ô mai out of any fruit available in South East Asia and add salt, sugar, chillies, ginger and other spices to your liking.
Ô mai can be kept for years in your pantry.
Traditional ô mai from apricot (source)
Ô mai made from lemon and green rice (cốm)
I find this fascinating: when omitting one obvious option (e.g the fridge), we will be introduced with new constraints that eventually lead to a myriad of other alternatives, and each alternative itself will offer you a universe of options and techniques.
If you are particularly interested in fermentation, I recommend this book on the Art of Fermentation (praised as “the most comprehensive guide to DIY home fermentation ever published“). This could be a good start to step up our pantry game.
If you want to read further on this topic: