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Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Mum, I need your help

JD has been away for five months teaching skiing in Switzerland.  She has been sharing a chalet with 11 other ski instructors for the season. Last Sunday, a couple of days before she was due to come home, I got a WhatsApp message saying, "Please can I ring you?"

As I message back, "Of course," my heart is racing and my stomach is churning. What is wrong? The three minutes it takes her to ring me back seemed like three hours. Then finally...

"Mum, I need your help!" Her voice is shaky. I am scared...really scared.

"Mum, it's awful, there's so much food left. I can't use it all up. I am trying to pack as much as I can but I can't fit it all in. What can I do?"

My answer (after silencing my massive sigh of relief)...The pub, of course!

JD's favourite pub was Pub Montfort.  It's a popular pub with 'seasonaires' and JD was a regular visitor.  Although there would be lots of seasonaires leaving, I felt sure she would find a few people staying on for the famed mountain biking in the resort.

So JD and one of her fellow instructors packed up the remaining food from the cupboards and fridges into a couple of big bags and set off up the hill to the pub.  She said she was a little tentative, but in fact, when she got there she and her food offerings were very well received.  Everything was welcomed - yes, the pack of pasta with just one portion left,  a 'random mustard and honey sauce', half a bottle of cooking oil, the remains of three boxes of salt, various more interesting and complete items, two part rolls of cling film and she said she could never have imagined the excitement caused by dishwasher tablets.  Apparently no-one ever wants to buy dishwasher tablets so they are a rare luxury in a seasonaire household.

I was very glad that my daughter managed to waste nothing and was interested to hear about the last Verbier feast, which apparently mixed baked beans and lentils - who knew that was a thing?  And, 'not gonna lie' as they say, it was a proud mummy moment when I realised that I have set a good example to my children, and one they are happy to follow.

But... sometimes things back fire, don't they?

Not long after enjoying listening to the tale of the food bags and their trip to the pub as well as JD's interesting innovations in the kitchen, that she has promised to repeat for us sometime, disaster struck.  On unpacking one of her bags, she was puzzled to find some brown powder on her ski jacket (well technically my ski jacket, but we won't go there!). She thought it was some form of make-up spillage, but when I start to poke my nose in, I discover the tub of cocoa, with its lid half off.  It went everywhere.  In fact I can smell cocoa as I write this. We both keep going back to the task of hoovering everything clean and we are still not done. The creatures in my compost heap will probably be on a chocolate high for weeks.

Cocoa filled hoover!


Shame the cocoa missed the trip to the pub!

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Invitation to contribute your food waste recipes for my next book

I will be writing to fellow Food Waste Champions over the next few weeks inviting contributions for my next book all about food waste.

When I interviewed the head of waste management at my local council while researching my book 101 Ways to Live Cleaner and Greener for Free he said as a parting comment following our lengthy and inspiring chat:

"Start with food waste.  It's food waste that is the most important thing that we need to reduce."

Well in a way, I did. The first chapter of my book is all about food waste.  That was in 2012.  At the time, the latest published figures showed that in the UK alone household were wasting 8,000,000 tonnes of food and drink in a year.  That means one third of a tonne wasted on average by every household in Britain.


Some facts and figures from my first book


Then, of course, there's all the waste before it gets to our homes, which raises the total to 15 million tonnes. Yet still one in eight people in the world go to bed hungry. We have a serious problem here. And we know it.

How did this happen and what are we going to do about it?

This is going to be the subject of my next book and I am going to enlist the help of the many wonderful people who are working to change this and revolutionize our food industry and our food habits.

If you are one of those people, I will be getting in touch soon. If you know someone who could contribute who you think I may not yet know, please tell me and put me in touch. If you could contribute please let me know. You don't need to wait for an invitation, just get in touch. I will be collecting 101 ways to reduce your food waste. There will be yummy recipes and top tips. Let's do it. Get your top tip ready to share.


Tuesday, 12 April 2016

#WasteLessSaveMore

Last week I was invited to speak at the Discovery Communities Live event at The Silk Mill in Derby - an event organised by YearHere in conjunction with Sainsbury's #WasteLessSaveMore campaign and the town of Swadlincote.

I decided that the most appropriate thing I could talk about was my experience of taking part in Zero Waste Week back in September 2013, when it was all about reducing food waste.  So I took a look back at my blog posts for the week to remind me about why I took part, what I did and what I learnt from it.

It was an enlightening experience reading back over past blog posts and it really highlighted how much my family has changed behaviour over the years and managed to create lasting waste reduction habits. I wish I'd counted the number of times I asked myself: "Did we really do that?"

One of my fellow speakers, Chris King, who is photographing and documenting the people and organisations who are tackling the food waste problem, asked me what was the worst food waste I've ever seen and immediately I thought about one of the images in the slides I was going to show to accompany my talk - my cheese drawer from 2013.

The seriously mature cheese collection in my fridge
 at the start of Zero Waste Week 2013
One of the things I found so useful about Zero Waste Week, was that it got me thinking about why I wasted food.  I realised that I was the only person in my family who ate any cheese other than cheddar so decided there was no point in buying an array of cheeses when I had friends for dinner as the cheese would generally end up like the picture above. So I changed my buying habits and bought a couple of different cheddars for my cheese selection. It was a simple decision to make. Several years later I find that Senior Daughter has developed a taste for Brie and Camembert, so now I can add another variety knowing it won't get wasted. But still, I keep it simple and just offer a very limited choice.

Another big change I made to my buying habits also revolves around parties.  If we had a summer get-together we used to invite people to bring whatever meat they wanted to cook on the barbecue. Generally what would happen is that every couple/family would bring meat enough for three families - either because they couldn't decide what they fancied to eat - or they were overtaken with a generosity of spirit - or maybe both.  It was a food waste disaster every time - well in fact more than that - it was a waste disaster altogether alien to our Zero Waste  lifestyle.  Again we learnt to simplify the offer.  We now provide just sausages and burgers - locally made from local meat.  We tell guests they don't need to bring anything, which saves them time and money, and saves me from the abundance of packaging and wasted food.  I take my cake boxes to the butchers so what I buy goes straight into those with no plastic bags. The burgers get cooked from frozen a few at a time as and when there are people wanting them.  The sausages are bought fresh, so that any spares can be frozen (in family sized quantities and used from the freezer). Again we only cook a few at a time. This way very little extra is cooked - and it is usually all eaten during the evening or put away for breakfast the next day.  Simple and high quality is the rule and it works.



Several people said this picture resonated with them after my talk.
It was clearly food for thought!


As with a lot of times when I talk at events I am often asked what my children think of my/our Zero Waste lifestyle and the Discovery Communities Live event was no exception.  It is really now that my children are making their own way and their own lives that I am really seeing the impact of life without a bin. We regularly have discussions about how to use up ingredients and I frequently get photos of their creations as they make the most of their food. I really hope that the work of Swadlincote and the other towns that have been working on innovative food waste projects as part of the #WasteLessSaveMore campaign can reach families and young people to inspire the kinds of conversations I am lucky enough to have with my daughters. We must engage with our teenagers on the subject of wasting less over the next few years. We need to move away from seeing food as a low value disposable commodity stacked high on a supermarket shelf, to something of great importance to our health and social well-being, that deserves the time for a conversation about where it has come from, who has made it and how, and at what cost to the planet.  We need to love our food and care about how it is produced and we need to be doing that whether we are 9, 19 or 90.  Let's take time to talk about what we put on our table and why.  A great place to start (or just to carry on the conversation) could be to sign up to join Zero Waste Week 2016 and involve the whole family.  Lots of people who were at the Discovery Communities Live event last Tuesday have signed up already.  I hope lots more will do so over the coming weeks and months, so we can carry on the conversations started and turn some of those conversations into actions.

There were many innovative ideas shared at the event, lots of ideas that were taken away by food waste reduction champions, by people from local councils, by entrepreneurs and by representatives from Sainsbury's.  The highlight of the day, for me, was the delicious food on offer made from food that would be otherwise wasted.  The Real Junk Food Project made a wonderful lunch from food that would have been wasted.  There were several delicious samples from food producers who were taking otherwise waste produce and creating something yummy from it.

Here's some of the delicious food and drink available at the 'Discovery Zone' - all products that are made from ingredients that might have otherwise been wasted.  All this shows just how much we could be doing to make the most of the food we produce and the carbon footprint that it takes.



Sunday, 27 March 2016

The Bath Half

Two weeks ago today team 'now we are three' completed the Bath Half marathon. The sun shone for us, they music played and the atmosphere was amazing.
Lizzi was setting out with the pros and celebs and aiming to beat her previous Bath Half time of  1:48:45. (She started next to Russel Howard). My plan was just to get round and Richard's plan was to run with me to make sure I did that! It was like having my own personal trainer next to me all the way :) 
A huge cheer told us that the race had officially started. We couldn't see the start at this time and continued to shuffle forward with thousands of other people.  But just over 9 minutes later and we crossed that line. Within the first mile you get to the brow of a downhill stretch and so have full view of the thousands of people in front of you. Runners for as far as the eye could see.  No danger of going off too fast!
My feet hurt by mile five and we were overtaken on mile 6 by Darth Vader but we kept going and in fact we both knew we had Cheshire Cat grins pretty much all the way round. On the first lap just over a mile in, I noticed a spectator was holding out a board with a big pink spot on it that said 'Hit the spot to power up.' As We turned the corner to start our second lap of the circuit, I decided that if she was still there I'd be hitting that spot! I was totally loving the high fives with all the children along the way.  It was so much fun. Turning the corner at the end of the Upper Bristol Road to head back in towards town was such a great moment. It felt like the home straight and we were running at quite a pace (for me). The lead singer of the band at the far end of the Lower Bristol Road shouted, "Come on, you've trained for this, we haven't." I loved the sign that declared 'blisters are in this year' and one that said 'Go Mum'.  They kept me going, as did my personal trainer, each time he said 'How are you doing, shall we give it a little more?'

We did manage to up the gear a bit every now and then as the mileage went up and the distance to that finish line came down.  It was only on mile 12, which for me was uncharted territory, that I said to Rich, "This feels hard now." I think he said "It's meant to be hard. It's a half marathon! We pushed on up the hill just keeping the pace as best I could and Rich staying with me. I said,"There's no way I can sprint at the end." "Don't worry, we already are." We turned the corner and we could see the finish line. I felt as though I couldn't believe it was coming to the end. I had been so nervous about it before I started - but I loved every minute of it - all 2 hours 15.35 minutes of it.

Lizzi beat her time, coming in at 1:48:10 (and in front of Russel Howard and Greg James. And not only that she has already run another half marathon on Cardiff yesterday. Would I do it again?

The whole experience was thoroughly enjoyable and I am itching to do another one.

So team 'now we are three' may well run again  or maybe the team will grow to become four.  We have some takers!







Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Talking Rubbish with That's Oxford TV

A few weeks ago I was invited to talk to Robin Shuckburgh about how to reduce waste and make better use of our resources.  Here's the Youtube video.


Sunday, 28 February 2016

A year without plastic - the good bits

Trying to avoid single-use plastic for a year is the hardest challenge I have tried. The reason behind this strange decision that we took was this: I wanted to see if today’s highly packaged lifestyle is necessary and beneficial or not.  How uncomfortable would it be to manage without plastic packaging?

For me, the most uncomfortable part of the whole challenge is that it involved my family and not just myself.  When I have set myself challenges before, which I do most years, it has really been only up to me whether or not I succeeded in my challenge. Involving other people is always going to be harder, but it can also seem more rewarding - or at least that's what I feel now, looking back on what we achieved as a family. 

It was at times frustrating, like when I asked at the covered market in Oxford if I could have some cheese without any plastic wrapper - the guy said "yes, of course" then snuck in the plastic wrapping anyway. Uhh!  Like when I carefully look for packaging that seems plastic free - I open up a cardboard box and find that inside the contents are wrapped in plastic. But I'm getting wise to that one now!

So, it wasn't 100% successful.  However, it was certainly not all bad. In one year we’ve ended up with a 2.5kg cat food bag filled with scrunched up plastic.  It weighed 770 grams.  Even though I can’t say we achieved our challenge, we have cut down our packaging enormously. I’m pretty sure I used to produce about that much plastic in a month, never mind a year.

Here’s what I’ve learnt.
1. Living without plastic requires organisation. It’s when I haven’t planned ahead that I’ve had to buy plastic packaged goods. Having a good stock of dry goods, store cupboard ingredients and buying cat food in bulk helps.
2. Plastic avoidance requires making sure you take lunch, snacks and drinks with you when you are out and about (a huge money saver!) I have a stainless steel flask for water and I make a lunch of leftovers, or a couscous or pasta salad in a Tupperware container. For that boredom/comfort eating I take a small pot of dried fruit and nuts, which I buy in bulk from refill outlets such as Wholefoods Market in Cheltenham or SESI in Oxford when I’m passing by that way.
3. I bake my own bread, cakes, biscuits and oatcakes. Much tastier than anything shop-bought.
4. I cut out crisps, sweets and other plastic wrapped snacks. For me crisps were the hardest challenge, but finding other snacks like nuts, olives, roasted giant corn and dried fruit has helped. Much healthier!
5. Going plastic free gets easier as you learn how and where to shop. At first I thought I was spending more money, but now I’ve learnt where to shop, I save money.
6.Fresh fruit and vegetables are easily found. Sainsbury’s and Waitrose have plenty of loose fruit and veg, and Coop has some availability. I'm sure other supermarkets are the same. However, the best place I found was a local green grocer - the traditional kind - my local is Alan’s Orchard in Carterton and it really is excellent.
7. I buy good local meat and eggs, unpackaged (as you can take your own tubs/reuse your egg-boxes) at my local Butcher's - Patrick Strainge in Bampton.  If you are in the area - don't miss it! It is well-known for its award winning sausages. They also have wonderful pasties, sausage rolls and that sort of thing, which we've used as a way of keeping our holiday travel plastic free.  We have just taken a big tub with a clip lid with us on the day of departure (or the day before) and filled it with goodies.  Much nicer than anything I've ever had from a plastic packet.

So that's the good bits. What about the bad bits? Cheese, cucumber and peas unpackaged? Forget it. Way too stressful!


Thursday, 31 December 2015

A year without plastic

Well we have completed our strange experiment. We have tried and failed of course to manage a whole year without purchasing anything packaged in single use plastic.

We did try quite hard most of the time, but this has certainly been the hardest eco challenge that I have attempted so far. It was bound to be hard. The challenges I've undertaken so far, like a year of buying only second hand clothes, a year of not buying new books, are things that only affect me. It has been up to me and me only to succeed or fail. I like a challenge so I have found it fairly easy to stick to my decisions. This year, though, my challenge has affected my whole family, my guests, my pets even. Now that's a lot harder. But it hasn't been a complete fail.

First of all here's the sum total of our single use plastic for the year.


I tried to get Smarty the Cat to stand in front of the bag to show the scale of our year of plastic, but he wouldn't oblige for long enough for me to snap a picture of him with the bag. He is nearly as tall as the bag.   Does that help give an idea?

All of this plastic is squashed inside a 2.5kg bag of cat food (almost).  When I chose this challenge, I decided that I wasn't going to go anything like as far as trying to make my own cat food.  So I found these clear bags of cat food at Countrywide.  They have been a success with the cats, and this was the first bag of the year, when I found that they also did 10kg sacks. However, I didn't want to find that the cats didn't like it, so I tried the small bag first. We then swapped to buying 10kg sacks which are not squashed inside this bag, because they are being re-deployed for various purposes like storing wood chippings, kindling etc.  So, that way, they are exempt from the single use plastic.

I can't decide whether this looks like a lot of plastic or a little, because I didn't really ever measure the amount of plastic we got through before, and I had already tried to cut out any non-recyclable plastic.  So how does it compare to plastic in a 'normal' household, I wonder?

There's something else missing from this bag too.  Quite a lot of other plastic that I didn't stock up, as I was trying to concentrate mainly on my own shopping habits rather than other people's habits, and the less I used plastic, the more I noticed how much plastic was brought into the house brother people.  If anyone bought something wrapped in plastic, I put it into another plastic bag and sent it out with my weekly recycling (most plastic in West Oxfordshire is recycled).  I think I've put out plastic recycling from other people maybe six to eight times this year as it has taken that long to fill a bag to a reasonable amount to put it out.

Before I commit this little bag of plastic to the recycling I'm going to have a good think about what has been good and what has been not so good about our year without single use plastic (nearly). But that's for another day I think.  Today I'm just going to say that it is done and my family can no doubt heave their sighs of relief, at least for a bit, until I decide how many of the new plastic free habits are going to remain in the Pitt household.  I dare say some of them will be willingly accepted, but not all of them.  I can't remember how far through the year the term 'illegals' became a Pitt family thing - as in "Sorry, Mum, I've brought illegals".  Over the next few weeks, I will tell all, maybe!

In the meantime, Happy New Year!