Editor’s noteAs we enter 2023, we’re running a series of stories in Star Culture on diet and nutrition, navigating eating healthier amid rising food costs and advice on making sustainable choices.
Here’s a resolution that’s actually worth keeping: This year, eat more nutritious food, spend less on groceries and help fight climate change.
It doesn’t have an official name yet but, in my head, I’ve been calling it the Random Food Diet, the No Plan Meal Plan and/or the Zero-Waste Diet. That last one is probably the easiest to understand.
The diet revolves around ugly fruit, cheese ends, the reduced-for-quick-sale shelves, chicken bones, marked-down protein and things that are cheap simply because they’re in season. The premise is simple. If I can find fresh food at half price, I buy it, even if I’m not entirely sure how it’s going to evolve into dinner. It’s how I try to shop and eat as often as possible and, over time, it’s become a way of life — one that I get a lot of enjoyment from.
I’m not going to lie. It takes a little while to adjust to my random food diet. It requires a little more time, some courage and learning several basic cooking techniques. The upside? Food ruts are never my problem and I eat a much wider variety of plants than I probably would if I did a meal plan, so I think it’s made me a healthier eater.
“Any time you approach food from a zero-waste perspective I think you lean toward more cooking at home, cooking for yourself and education about food,” said Christine Tizzard, a Toronto chef, food stylist and the author of the recent book, “Cook More, Waste Less.” “In general, that makes you healthier and it’s also mentally rewarding.”
Tizzard said that rescuing food at the grocery store before it goes to the landfill is an important part of the equation when it comes to food insecurity and the climate crisis. She said we have to find ways to get grocery stores to be more accountable. Although individual homeowners are a big part of the food waste problem, a lot of it is wasted in the supply chain.
“In France, the grocery stores, by law, have to donate all of the food so that nothing goes into landfills,” she explained. “Many people don’t understand that the problem with food waste in the landfill is that it creates methane, which contributes to climate change, so rescuing that food is extremely important.”
I rarely use a shopping list, whereas Tizzard does, since she said it’s important to keep you from buying too much food that will only go to waste in your fridge. She always starts her grocery shop in the half-price section and, if there’s something good, she can adjust her plan. If it’s something unfamiliar, she figures out how to store it then researches ways to cook it.
Avoiding spoilage is obviously another important piece of the puzzle. After my fridge died this summer, I upgraded to a bottom-freezer model so the food is at eye-level. I’ve also phased out my opaque plastic food storage containers and use mostly clear glass ones instead. The combination of the two has been a game-changer for food waste and I don’t think I’ve discovered a scary science experiment in the back of the fridge one single time over the past four months.
The key to making all of this work is to learn a few techniques that can be adapted to whatever you bring home from the store. Making fritters may not be the absolute healthiest way to eat vegetables but learning how to make them has meant I can make a tasty meal from zucchini, onions, corn or just about anything in the reduced for quick sale section.
Tizzard suggests soups, stews, frittatas, stir-frys and tacos as things that can be adapted to work with whatever is left over in the fridge or on sale at the grocery store.
“And curries,” she adds. “If you learn how to make a curry sauce, you can throw anything in. Plus, it uses up your leftover rice.”
When she created the recipes for her book, Tizzard made sure to build in a lot of suggestions for substitutions so you can use what’s on hand. She stresses, too, that it doesn’t always have to be a complicated dish. It could be as simple as using up the mushrooms in a tasty omelette.
There are easier ways to get dinner, of course. And, sure, I have nights when I know that I only have enough time for something super basic. But we don’t have to resolve to make all our meals from scratch all year long. Just try out this zero-waste strategy on a weekend when you have a little time to have fun. Cooking up ugly vegetables just might become a habit.
“I think it’s really important, since these are life skills and the only way that we are ever going to be able to make any sort of change is if we educate ourselves,” said Tizzard.
“Health education and knowledge is key when it comes to dealing with everything from food insecurity problems, climate change and how to, within your budget, figure out what to cook for dinner.”
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