There was a time when I loved leftovers. Reliving the previous nights meal. Having something tasty for lunch at work while the girl next to me has a plain salada. Or that last slice of pizza the next morning on a weekend. No matter how they came, leftovers were a gift from the food gods, reward for a bountiful harvest.

Now they only give off the rotten stench of failure. Four days straight of coleslaw after too much cabbage being purchased. Too much cooked pasta becomes a toastie, whose ingredients in turn become a pasta dish.

Then there is the stir fry. The last refuge of leftover vegetables. How many times can we make a stir fry before one of us snaps and does something with the soy sauce or carrot we’ll regret.

But really, none of this is really leftovers, merely overs. We bought too much and must pay for it or suffer through it. Spinach was my first attempt to buy less, but no matter how much I tried, there was always too much. It was used in scrambled eggs, pasta salad, too many lunch bagels to count, not to mention the dreaded stir fry. Now, I just don’t buy spinach.

Carrots are almost on the no buy list as well. We’ve seen too many carrots go limp and almost break in half when the time came to peel them. Why did I buy three? I only needed one for the recipe, but I guess I thought they were cheap and I’d make a salad for lunch. Potatoes are a particularly evil piece of food overs. Those eyes staring at you from a dark corner of the cupboard. The longer you ignore them, the more eyes that end up staring at you.

I guess I never truly appreciated how much hard work and sustained effort it was going to take to get to zero food waste. Learning new recipes, finding alternatives to 1 kilogram minimums, resisting the temptation of in season fruit and veg, I never considered any of these when we started. I thought it would be easy, buy less, eat less, done. But here we are, surrounded by week old capsicum, half a lemon and some thyme who’s original purpose is from, well, another time!

But we are having some small wins changing our shopping habit. Buying half loaves of bread and smaller cartons of milk. Although if the milk gets any smaller, we’ll be buying from hotel suppliers! And in the meantime, hopefully all these small wins will keep us going in the bigger challenge towards zero food waste.


The buffet

They say you have to do something 17 times for it to become habit. During my university years, making the most of the local restaurant  $5 all you can eat buffets was definitely habit forming, hitting the 17 mark sometime in the first month I’m sure. Not only was it a cheap meal, it became a competition for who could stack their plate the most or who could eat the most pieces of garlic bread, or pizza slices or soft serve ice cream.

Recently we visited my grandfather for lunch at the local sporting club, where their main draw, other than the Ghostbusters pokie machine, is their buffet. Grandpa says he likes bringing people there as it allows everyone to choose what they want to eat without any fuss. It was the first time we had been back to Grandpas buffet since starting this project and I was about to learn that old habits are hard to break.

There is something about the buffet that taps in to the Australian culture of celebrating the effort as much as the achievement, the old “ah well, he gave it a red hot go”. For me it also taps in to the indecisive part of my mind, “should I have the pork or beef? Why not a bit of both! Oh I didn’t see the calamari rings, best get some of those as well.” The plate starts to pile up, the flavours start blending in to each other but I don’t really notice how much food is there until I sit back down at my seat, and struggle to see anything else at the table past the big pile of fried rice I built my stack around.

It starts off well, the roast beef and vegies go down easy enough, the seafood hardly touch the sides, then I see it, the slab of lasagne that  smelt so good under the heat lamps. What was I thinking? I look over at E’s plate and she has definitely approached this differently. Part of it is the gluten free diet avoiding all the pasta and pastry themed items, which cuts out about 30% of this buffet. But if I was honest, I think she was just more mindful of this project than I am.

I look back down at my plate at the roast pork, pasta salad and call defeat.  The bargain buffet just got more expensive, like a lot of things along this journey. I’m definitely getting better at what to look out for and in the process I added another count to my mindfulness habit, hopefully.


My shopping weaknesses

Hi, my name is G and I’m a food-bargain-a-holic. This week was a real struggle for me. I’ve been doing really well, I am now able to walk past the 2 for 1 bread loaf signs and not stop to wonder about all the toasties that I could make with that bread. But this week I came across a “buy 3, get them for x price” deal on my yoghurt.

Before starting this project of ours, without hesitation I would have loaded up the cart with those delicious berry or vanilla flavoured fermented milk tubs. My reasoning in the past was simple, I’m buying 3 for the price of 2, so even if I only eat 2.5 tubs before they expire, I’m still ahead. Till now. If you’ve never seen a man standing in the middle of the fridge section of Woolworths, looking for the longest expiry date and trying to calculate in his head how many days, how many breakfasts it is, it’s a bit like this.

It’s now an instinct, I knew there would be a price for not finishing all 3 tubs and it made me stop and consider my purchase. What is the expiry date, sure we look at this in dairy most times, but sometimes we know we will get through a litre of milk in a week so we don’t need to check. When it’s going to cost you more than the bargain price of the item to throw it out, you check the expiry date, believe me.

But it’s not just the basics like bakery and dairy, those sneaky net wearers at the deli get me as well. If I see a triple smoked ham at 25 or 30% off, E can look forward to toasties and rolls for at least 5 meals over the coming week. Then there is the salami, which in my mind is so cured that it never goes off, so if that’s on special, load up! And now that I’ve got the ham and salami, I better swing back by the bread isle and get those 2 for 1 loaves. Wait, E needs GF bread as well, does she have any frozen? I can’t remember, maybe, but fresh is nicer, so I’ll get her some. Better get some more cheese as well, YES, my favourite tasty cheese is on special. Oh, only for a 1kg block…. well I’ve already got the bread and ham.

In for a penny, in for a $5 donation to the jar.


12 dollar chips and a plate of red onion

Dealing with eating out.

We were on one of our regular burger date nights,  ordering the usual down at the local Grill’d,  burger and cider each, with a regular fries to share. Everything was going well,  both enjoying our burgers,  cider taking the edge off a tough day at work.  Then it happened, a bit over half way through the fries and I called it; “I can’t eat any more.” E was obviously full as well. I looked at her and said “well I guess that’s $5 for the jar”.

That was the response from E. She really didn’t want to pay for the left over chips, which opened the discussion on how to handle eating out. Sure, it’s not our fault that a chef served too many chips with the parma, or that they were generous and served a whole avocado with breakfast. But if one of the motivations to stop food wastage was because there are people that don’t have enough, then it’s not their fault the chef put too much on my plate either.

So how to handle eating out. Firstly consider how big the serve is going to be. You can always order more of something later. Sometimes though, you just get unlucky, as E did a few weeks after our chip night. For lunch at work one day she bought herself a salad and while ok in taste, was served with far too many red onions in the mix. No matter how hungry you are, there is a limit to how many red onion slices you eat in one sitting. Especially during the work day!

Most people would think that paying $5 for leaving those red onions is too harsh, that they draw the line at salad filler. For me it depends on how you are looking at it. Overtime we will hopefully be able to build a list of places that serve good quality, reasonable size dishes. And in the meantime, I’m happy to pay the price to cross those other establishments off my list.


What about a worm farm?

It’s funny, this is almost always the first question that people ask when we tell them about our little project, what about a worm farm. Obviously we are not explaining it very well, which is one of the reasons for this site. After the initial reaction and then our further attempts to explain the project we are often met with a blank stare. Maybe this shows people’s approach to waste and maybe how we as a race approach problems in general. Instead of looking at the cause of the waste and ways to limit it, our thoughts go to what to do with the waste once we’ve created it. Even recycling to a certain extent is a problem solution, not a preventative measure.

Maybe E and I are just really, REALLY bad shoppers and the reason we are met with confusion is because people just don’t understand why we have any food leftover at all. Personally I don’t think that we are, I think we all can get caught up in a rush of excitement to try something new, or to eat a bit better which will result in foreign food in the fridge. Or my weakness, that dreaded 2 for 1 deal.

So why aren’t we doing a worm farm. Well for starters, we live in an apartment with a small balcony. Not a lot of room or need for one. There is only so much compost our friends and family can take. Plus, I don’t really want to transport compost around town. Who wants to be know as the crazy compost guy! Another reason is I didn’t think of it, or dissmissed it quickly. E and I are a bit quirky so maybe a worm farm just seemed to boring or obvious or just not us.

But for me the main reason is that the worm farm is an easy out. It doesn’t make you change your actions. It doesn’t give you empathy for others less fortunate. It’s not going to help when we are eating out. The worm farm is great for carrot peel, but it’s not going to make us a more considerate consumer.