Christmas for so many of us is about gathering together with friends and family over an opulent meal.
It is a time of stockings stuffed with gifts and faces stuffed with food.
The tradition of gathering together over a shared meal is common in some other species of the animal world, but the way in which humans share is both complex and unique to our species. Unfortunately this traditional Christmas food share has become somewhat of an over-share in recents times seeing excessive amounts of money wasted on food that doesn’t even get used. With one in nine people across the globe not having access to enough food to live a healthy and active life one can’t help but feel guilty sitting around on Christmas day watching the cheese platter melt (this is an Australian experience where Christmas usually correlates with a heatwave). Try not to fret your prettily little Christmas hat covered head with feelings of guilt there are plenty of things you can do to reduce food wastage and environmental damage over the holiday period. But first things first lets have a look at a few Christmas waste statistics.
The Facts and Figures of Feasting
A study conducted by the advocacy group ‘Do Something!’ in 2012 has shown that each year Australians thow out eight billion dollars worth of edible food. This amount of money could feed the worlds 66 million starving school age children for two years. Even if you weren’t keen on donating your money to someone else you can think of the wastage from a personal perspective. The average Australian household throws away enough food annually to feed themselves for one month or pay around six months worth of electricity bills. That is a huge waste of money and food resources! Christmas is a particularly wasteful time with the food recycling charity group Oz Harvest reporting that their waste food collection in the Sydney area increases by 20 tonnes over the Christmas period. Now we are all aware (and feeling guilty) about the amount of food and money we waste at the festive time of year lets look at some things we can do about it!
Planning Your Fest
First and foremost our battle against waste begins at the planning stage. Christmas is the one time of year where most folk take the time to make plans to eat. We carefully count our guests, create menu ideas, and start the planning weeks in advance. Even if you aren’t this organised you at least have a vague idea about what you will be eating based on the meals of Christmas past. Hypothetically Christmas dinner should me the most organised dining event of the year and result in the least amount of waste.
So why do we end up with excess?
This could go back to the roots of our human desire to share meals, either in hope that others will repay the favour in the future, that by keeping people fed they won’t get a case of the ‘hangries’ and fight (not always the case at Christmas), by buying an excess of delicious food people will think you are awesome and very rich, or that by stuffing your family full of food you are showing you care for them and their welfare. Whatever the conscious or subconscious reasoning behind the feast, there really is no excuse for the waste. Simply count the expected number of visitors and shop to suit. If you are worried you won’t have enough of something serve foods that can be frozen and reheated later, so once the feasting is complete, you can freeze the leftovers to eat later in the week.
If you are new to meal planning you can find useful tools in most stationary stores now-a-days, or there are some great freebies online, there is even a free Christmas meal planner available at Here Comes the Sun. All you need then is your favourite cookbooks or websites and a cup of tea (or perhaps some egg nog) for the planning process. You can even get your family involved in the planning process. It is good to keep in mind that while there are a lot of carnivorous Christmas guests out there, veggie based foods are better for the environment. Studies from the UN have concluded that there getting your protein through vegetable sources is far better for the environment that the animal alternative. You probably won’t win friends and influence people by wiping meat of the menu if there are passionate carnivores in your family, but you cut back on the amount of animal products on the table with some vegan or vegetarian alternatives. There are that many incredible recipes out there now that most folk wont even realise that their is less meat on the table or that your cheesecake has no dairy products in it.
When you have your menu planned and your shopping list its time to grab the eco shopping bags and get ready for the next step.
Take a look at that list you have complied and contemplate the following things.
- Can you get these items from a bulk foods store?
- Are the fruit and vegetables in season?
- Can I buy these from a local farmer?
- Can I buy organic?
- Is the item fair-trade?
If the answer to all of these questions is ‘Yes’ then you have hit the holy grail of Christmas grocery shopping. A ‘yes’ to at least one of the five is a good step in the right direction and something to be proud of.
If you are a busy person or happen to live in an area where access to any of the above five categories is impossible then ask yourself the following questions as you shop at your supermarket.
- Is the packaging recyclable in my area? (Check with your local council).
- Is there an alternative with less packaging or packaging that is easier to recycle? (a box of biscuits over a bag of individually plastic wrapped ones)
- Where was the produce sourced from? (buying locally grown produce supports your local economy and means less food miles)
- Do I need this? (supermarkets are designed to make you buy on impulse)
Thinking before you buy is the best way to make small steps to a less wasteful future and avoid spending money on unnecessary items. A win for your bank account and the environment.
Feeding the Family
On Christmas day take the time to be truly thankful for your food. Whether your tradition is to say grace or if you just love to sit back and mindfully snack on a piece of dark chocolate. Being thankful for the fact that you are not the one in nine who doesn’t have access to food to get your through a regular day, let alone Christmas will make you realise how truly lucky you are. Being thankful for your food also means treating it with respect, so rather than watching the cheese platter melt, you could wrap it up and put it back in the fridge to eat again the following night. If you are a meat eater you can do the beast who gave their life a favour and savour every last mouthful, being sure to save any leftovers to be frozen for a future meal. Food fights, while fun, aren’t really respectful for your food (or the furniture).
If you took the time to make more vegetarian or vegan dishes you can wait for a positive reaction to your food, then use the opportunity to tell the delighted guest the deals of the meal. I love cooking sugar free for the sheer pleasure of telling guests that the delicious desert they are eating is sugar free and nutrient packed. You will likely have people asking for the recipes! If there are some scraps left over from the food preparation be sure to compost them if you have the facilities. Let guests know about this strategy so that food waste doesn’t end up in your landfill bin (especially after a little too much festive spirits)
Hopefully with your increased level of awareness, your meal strategically planned, shopping completed mindfully, your Christmas day feat results in full bellies and an empty garbage bin.
Happy planning and feel free to share your tips below!