Food Waste – the less obvious kind

I’ve learnt so much this year from tending my garden. It has been a gift in so many ways.

I’ve learned to appreciate humble foods again, like peas and potatoes and courgettes (zucchini). These plants have nourished me in mind and body – tending them has given me so much joy.

But beetroot and garlic have educated me in a way I didn’t expect.

We talk a lot about food waste when it comes to environmentalism – a 2019 report stated that as much as a 10th of greenhouse gas pollution could be attributed to lost food.

When we think about food waste, we tend to think about images of loaves of bread, tossed whole and plastic-coated into the bin. We think of nets of mouldering Buy One Get One Free tangerines – unnecessary but desired for the fleeting moment they feel like a bargain.

We seldom think about carrot tops, or beetroot leaves, garlic stems and onion greens. These are all perfectly edible parts of commonly grown plants – why aren’t we eating more of them?

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It’s an incredibly frustrating dietary omission – effectively, by using these commonly discarded parts of plants, we’re growing two crops in one space. Take beetroot, for example – we’re growing both root veg and salad leaf. Or root veg and a spinach substitute.

Obviously, some things aren’t to everyone’s taste – carrot fronds really aren’t something I enjoy! – but when you can get packs of fancy ‘raw dog food’ made from cuts of meat people don’t eat, I don’t see why carrot greens can’t become a staple guinea pig food. It might mean customers buying fewer packs of salad to feed to a family pet…

But I digress. I am not a keeper of small rodents.

What I can do, is use this – somewhat simple, wholly unimpressive – revelation to better plan my own garden. I can prioritise foods which will feed me more than one crop.

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I’ve mentioned beetroot already – the fat root I pickled and the leaves I ate in salad and sliced thinly into curries. But I’ve used garlic too.

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I began by trimming off the leaves and slicing them, freezing them on baking sheets and then decanting into bags for use in place of spring onions in stir-fried dinners.

After this, I pulled the bulb from the earth and chopped back around half of the stem.

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I then infused some olive oil with the chopped stems, making a garlic oil for frying in. The bulbs went into the shed to dry. Though they won’t see us through winter alone, in combination with the greens and oil, they should go some of the way and certainly a lot longer than if I’d automatically discarded the greens.

There are all sorts of things we could be eating – arguably should be eating – which we discard. I would love to hear some of your examples of foods with multiple uses so that I can try to grow them in the coming year! You can let me know here, or on Twitter.

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