We’re a very wasteful country. Each year we amass something like 8.3 million tonnes of food and drink waste. Every day we throw away 1.3 million unopened yoghurt pots, 440,000 ready meals, 5,500 whole chickens, and 4.4 million apples. Every day! Most of the food we sling is edible, too. Spooked by stringent ‘best before’ – not ‘eat before’, mind – dates and salmonella scaremongering, we chuck food that, quite simply, doesn’t need chucking.
The implications are economical, ecological, social…it’s pretty terrifying. We’re given advice on how to avoid waste – steer clear of 2 for 1 offers when you don’t need them, weigh food more carefully when cooking, all that jazz. I’m quite a fan of cooking with leftovers, and indeed many things taste a good deal better the next day – curry, stew, soup…it’s very satisfying to ‘get them eaten’ as my dad says, rather joylessly.
But there are times when a judicious binning is the best way forward. Last week I had a small bowl of salsa verde left from a supper club. It sat in the fridge, lonely and hopeless, getting nudged further back as the days passed. Come Sunday night he was tucked behind cheeses and jars of chutney. I was cooking pasta. Penne with chilli, garlic and anchovies – a classic. Well, more classic with spaghetti probably, but penne was all we had. As I opened the fridge to get some parsley, I spotted him. This little bowl of salsa verde, verily an emerald amalgamation of 3 of the ingredients in the pasta – parsley, anchovy, and garlic. Like Archimedes from the bath, I sprung from the fridge and dumped the gobbet of green into my pasta.
It was vile. Confusing notes of mint, mustard and rosemary knocked the dish into a disfigured and ugly mess. It was a bowl of pasta in a hall of mirrors, as unattractive as a clumsy beekeeper. If only I’d binned it when I had the chance. Some things, of course, are worth saving, even when small and seemingly futile. Half a sausage can be a happy discovery at 1am, dunked in a pot of mustard and gobbled in one. But just because we’re told not to waste food, it doesn’t mean you should save every leftover salad leaf and espresso cupsworth of soup. Sometimes, as Nigel Slater said in some book or other, a discreet binning is the best solution.