The Principles on Cutting Food Waste for Writers and Recipe Creators

01 February 2018

Food waste

The market for cookbooks and food writing generally remains strong today. Everyone who writes about food, who creates recipes to inspire and instruct others, has an influence. By definition, a recipe is a call to action.

At the same time, we have a huge imperative to cut food waste. We have become starkly aware of how much we - as a society - waste. There are now apps to help people waste less, by creating possible homes for surplus food. The big retailers have started to announce commitments to achieve zero food waste on a set timetable. Things are happening. Change is being driven because it is necessary - but when it comes to what we do in the privacy of our own kitchens, change is slow.

We can only move from being a wasteful society to a waste-free one by making changes. This post is an invitation to food writers everywhere to be part of that change.

The plethora of recipes available on the internet is a fantastic resource. The brilliant food bloggers, the inspirational cooking vloggers - all of them help to awaken people’s senses to the joys of fantastic food. But they can also play their part in encouraging wasteful practices.

Recipes continually get us to buy in ingredients that go to waste. Maybe it calls for one stick of celery, or a few mixed leaves, or a garnish of a few fronds of dill. Use three egg whites. Half a dozen olives. All of these are ingredients that most can only buy in quantities significantly larger than they need for the recipe, and which then go to waste because:

  1. They get stored out of sight - out of sight = out of mind.
  2. We don’t know the best way to store things to keep them usable for longer
  3. We don’t have a plan on how to use them, and so we don’t get around to it before it’s too late

Today I’m beginning a campaign - and inviting you to join me - to change the practice of food writers everywhere. One little change to begin to build - recipe by recipe - a changed attitude to wasting food at home.

The principles on cutting food waste for writers and recipe creators

We want delicious recipes. We want food to be fun, culturally diverse, satisfying and fantastic. To do all this and cut waste as well, we should pursue the following principles:

  1. If you can reduce implied waste in your recipe without worsening the end result, then do. Getting people to use an egg white? Can the yolk be incorporated elsewhere without detriment? Why not do it?
  2. At the end of every recipe, add a short note highlighting the potential waste that is likely to result from following that recipe. Suggest two or three recipes that could be used to use up that waste OR give information, or links, on how to store that potential waste for the maximum time.
  3. Encourage your readers to plan ahead. If they’re going to use your recipe, encourage them to plan at the same time what they will do soon after that will use up the waste. If something goes in the fridge or freezer, mark in the calendar when you intend to cook a dish that will use it.
  4. Link to these principles to encourage others, those that are influenced and inspired by your writing, to follow suit. This is optional, but it will only change behaviours if it scales, and that means encouraging others to take part. 

That’s it. Simple, light-touch, but helpful. Think ahead about the waste your recipes will encourage. Give short advice on how to reduce it.

It is transformational because, over time, people will become used to seeing over and over advice on reducing waste. Knowledge about how to properly store things will become common knowledge. The idea that you should plan ahead to use up leftovers will make it more likely things will get used.

Want to go further? Three additional possibilities for you to consider:

  1. Identify the ingredients that are most commonly at risk of waste from your style of cooking, and produce - and identify - several great staple dishes that are designed to use them up.
  2. Actively promote your commitment to these principles via social media and invite others to do the same.
  3. Nobody is suggesting you should go back through your blog’s many years’ history and retrofit this onto all of your recipes - do it from this point forward. But to maximise the influence, go to your analytics for the last six months and add it to your top ten most-visited recipes (or 20, or 5 - basically the ones that have become your best performing landing pages). Surely they are worthy of having this applied.

Bear in mind, some will be cooking for one, some for six. So just because you produce a recipe for four people, which handily uses perfect quantities for reducing waste, people who are cooking for different numbers who have to scale up or down may have waste you didn’t expect.

It doesn’t have to be perfect - it doesn’t have to be 100% comprehensive. It’s about encouraging people to think differently, and to adopt a new habit. Seeing it consistently at the simplest level will be far more effective than seeing long reams of technical notes that people will no more be likely to read than they do the terms and conditions of a new piece of software.

Who are these principles for? Everyone. Blogs. Newspaper recipes. Videos. Celebrity chef cookbooks. We should have all these in our sights. But the more we can grow it from the ground up to begin with, the more likely the mainstream publishers will step up to the mark and adopt the practice as well.

Reading this - but not a blogger / recipe creator? Why not encourage your favourite writers / inspirers to adopt it? All voices raised in support will mean faster progress.

Anything I missed out? Ideas for how else we should encourage uptake? Please add a comment below.