Zero waste chef Max La Manna discovers how food waste can be transformed back into edible plants instead of ending up as harmful landfill
Over the past six months, it has been an extraordinary roller coaster of a ride to say the least. One area in the home that we’ve been cornered into is our kitchens. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, being in the kitchen is relaxing and soothing, but I know this ‘cooking three meals a day’ lifestyle isn’t easy for everyone.
We’ve been forced to hone our cooking skills, from making our first sourdough starters to baking banana breads on repeat and, of course, whether we like it or not, spend a lot more time washing dirty dishes too.
I’m also afraid that during this time we’ve also thrown away copious amounts of food – precious, carbon-intensive food that has travelled land and sea, far and wide to make it to our plates, to then be thrown away in a black plastic rubbish bag that never sees the light of day ever again.
With our never-ending to-do lists, from home-schooling our children, catching our favourite personal trainer’s latest IG live HIIT workout to whipping up dinner for five – unless you’re Jamie Oliver, then dinner is for six. Food waste is one the largest greenhouse gas emitters and guess what – we’re to blame.
In the UK, roughly 70% of food in landfills comes straight from our very own homes – and before you say “well, landfill is the same as composting”, no, it’s definitely not the same. Food that enters a landfill is embalmed for decades at a time, releasing a harmful greenhouse gas into our atmosphere and because (most) food is an organic material it needs a particular environment to break down naturally.
Sun, water, air are just some of the elements that uneaten food needs to become a renewable source of energy. If you threw away a head of lettuce last night, by the year 2045 it would have fully broken down in landfill, whereas it only takes somewhere between 3-6 months in a compost heap to fully break down into rich nutrient soil instead. Healthy soil = healthy plants, healthy plants = healthy people.
When food is thrown away and it’s wrapped up in plastic bags covered in other rubbish and who knows what, there is no way it’s in contact with elements that help it break down into nutrient rich fertiliser and soil.
Whether you have the space in your garden to compost or your council permits you to recycle your food waste – I highly advise you to call or write to your council to see if this is an option for you and your neighbours.
It doesn’t take that much effort, but if you’re looking to take a step further and lower your carbon footprint and reduce the amount of food waste you create, then I suggest growing and regrowing your own food scraps.
Wait, food scraps? Yes, food scraps.
Growing anything from a seed is impressive, but also difficult, unless you’ve been blessed with a green thumb. Sure it saves on money, but there has to be an easier way, and there is! You can actually grow food from your very own kitchen scraps.
There is something very MacGyver about it. It’s true you can upcycle everything from celery scraps to onion butts with a great chance of success.
Transform your food scraps!
Here are easy opportunities to start regrowing food from home
*Use organic fruits and vegetables for the best results.
Green onions, lemongrass, leeks, fennel, coriander, basil, mint and spring onions
- Place the root ends in water, but don’t fully submerge the veg/herb.
- Change the water daily.
- In 1-2 weeks, growth begins.
- Place roots in soil and water when the top soil is dry.
- Harvest the greens when full, then repeat the process.
- Cut off what you need without uprooting the plant.
Celery, cabbage, romaine lettuce and bok choy
- Submerge the roots leaving the tops above the water line.
- Spray with water a couple times a week, replacing the water every few days.
- Leaves will sprout in about a week.
- Plant the cutting with only the leaves above the soil.
- Harvest when fully grown, about 5 months.
- Soak the chunk of ginger overnight in water.
- Submerge in moist soil.
- Keep watering until shoots appear.
- Ready to harvest in a year.
- Simply remove the entire plant, use what you need and repeat.
- Place the root end and lightly cover it in soil.
- Keep the soil moist.
- Carefully separate the new onions, leaving the roots attached, and plant them.
- Occasionally, cut the leaves down to promote full growth.
- It can take up to 5 months for plants to mature enough for harvest.
- The larger the clove, the larger the bulb that will grow from it.
- Sit the plant in a sunny window, keeping the soil moist and lightly covered.
- The bulbs will be ready for harvest in early summer when the bottom third of the leaves have yellowed.
- Use a mixture of compost and soil in a pot.
- Plant the mushroom stalk in the soil with only the surface of it exposed.
- If the cutting takes, new growth happens quickly. Harvest and repeat.
- Don’t live in the tropics?
- That need not necessarily be a problem, because you can bring the tropics to you.
- Cut the top off of the pineapple and insert a few toothpicks to hold it above a container filled with water.
- Keep the container in direct sunlight.
- If it is warm outside, sit it on the porch or deck during the day and bring it in at night.
- Note to self: change the water every other day or so and keep the container filled so that it reaches just above the base of the pineapple.
- You will then notice roots in about a week or two and, once they are formed, you can transfer the plant into some potting soil.
- If you live in a cooler area, (aka not-the-tropics) it is best to grow your pineapple indoors.
This might be a shock for you, and now you’re considering the possibility of regrowing food.
A few things you must know before you jump in head first
- Patience is key, remember this. – It might not always work out the first time or second, but if I can do it and thousands of others online have shared with me that they can, then no doubt you can too.
- This will save you money, so keep a record. – If you shop for fresh basil from Tesco each week for £2 a bag, do the maths. I have basil, mint and spring onions regrowing endlessly and for the amount of food I cook I know that I am saving £££.
- Spread the word and start a regrowing online garden club. – Let your friends, family and neighbours know what you’ve been up to and don’t forget to share this with your online community.
You can thank me later.