Your Home Kitchen is the Key to Food Waste

Much of food waste occurs in the home kitchen. And food waste in turn contributes to malnutrition, hunger, climate change and pollution. In this edition of #TrashTalk, Aarti Kapur Singh writes about why your garden patch and kitchen are more powerful than you think.

The reality is that today’s world faces dire situations of pollution, climate change, water shortage, poverty, and hunger. And — surprise, surprise — food plays a huge roll in all these issues. Food relates to pollution? How?

According to the United Nations Development Programme, up to 40% of the food produced in India is wasted. About 21 million tonnes of wheat is wasted in India, and 50% of all food across the world meets the same fate, never reaching those who need it. In fact, according to the Agriculture Ministry, Rs. 50,000 crore worth of food produced is wasted every year in the country. The number of hungry people in India has increased by 65 million — more than the entire population of France. According to a survey by Bhook (an organisation working towards reducing hunger) in 2013, 20 crore Indians sleep hungry on any given night. And close to 70 lakh children died in 2012, from hunger or malnutrition.

Food waste utilises vast quantities of precious land, water and human resources; rather than nourishing people, it feeds landfills, producing methane gasses that poison the environment. Much of food waste (43%) occurs at the household level.

We all see that tonnes of the food produced nationally never gets consumed, causing substantial economic and environmental harms. And this is not just food that is cooked. It is also about food that is grown. Indeed, ironic in a country battling hunger and poverty. And the onus of stemming this wastage is as much on those who cook, as it is on those who make policies.

My attitude towards food germinated as a seed planted by my nana, my maternal grandfather, who had quite a green thumb. His house had an extensive kitchen garden where his grandchildren were encouraged to plant anything they fancied. This meant that we grew up understanding the effort that went into growing food — whether it was our own, or the farmers'. The reinforcement of this message, and its supplementation happened in my nani's (maternal grandmother) kitchen. Jhai Ji we called her, had seen the deprivation of Partition days, and never shied away from sharing stories of how she kept the kitchen fire burning with limited means. And she never made it sound like she was doing something special or different; rather, reiterating that not wasting food is, and can be, a natural part of how we cook and eat. I hardly ever saw her throw away peels, stalks or any other parts of fruits or vegetables considered inedible. So much so, that she ate her safeda mangoes with the peels! (It was only much later I learnt that most of the Vitamin A in mangoes was right under the peels). She could cook a delicious meal out of ghiya peels, pickling lemon rinds, and used potato peels to scrub her heels Parts of vegetables that were not cooked or used in the kitchen went into the 'compost bucket' that was buried in my grandfather's kitchen garden every morning.

Danthal recipe using cauliflower stalk - zero waste cooking

My favourite 'best out of waste' recipe from Jhai Ji's kitchen was danthal — cauliflower stalks that are skinned and seasoned with basic spices, to make for an amazing side dish. Most Punjabi home are familiar with this dish, but few actually make it. Full of detoxifying nutrients, the stalks and leaves of a cauliflower (not if they have turned yellow, though) can be used in the same recipes as lettuce, kale and other salad greens. Or you can roast them with mustard oil, garlic and a sprinkling of spices. This is also a great way to consume fibres that are essential to every diet.

Danthal recipe using cauliflower stalk: Zero waste cooking

Danthal is a Multani-Punjabi colloquial for danda — the stalk. You can either add water to the basic recipe with a little sautéed tomato in case you like a gravy around the vegetable, or you can have it dry. It tastes great with makki or bajra roti, alongside moong ki daal and loads of homemade white butter.

Recipe: Danthal Sabzi
400 grams cauliflower stalks and leaves, washed in salt water several times to get rid of soil or grit
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped fine
A small piece of ginger, peeled and chopped fine
A small piece of whole turmeric, peeled and chopped fine
1 dried red chilli
1 green chilli,  slit
1 tsp coriander powder, toasted and ground
1/2 tsp cumin powder, toasted and ground
1/2 tsp fenugreek powder
1/4 tsp garam masala powder
1/3 tsp amchoor powder
1/3 tsp asafoetida or heeng
Salt to taste
4 tbsp mustard oil

Cut the stems into even pieces.
Remove the hard and stringy outer cover of the central stalk with a paring knife. Cut into the same size as the stems.
Soak the vegetable in warm water as you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
Drain the stalks in a colander, then heat the oil in a kadhai.
When the mustard oil comes to smoking point, throw in the cumin, heeng, red chillies, whole turmeric, ginger and garlic.
Fry till the mixture turns a little pale in colour. If you want to make a gravy dish, add some tomato puree and let it cook till the oil leaves the sides.
Add the drained danthal pieces and cook with a lid on till they turn softer.
This will take around 10-15 minutes. Do stir every 5 minutes or so.
Add the rest of the spices except the garam masala.
Season with salt.
Add about a little less than half a cup of water and continue to cook till the stalks are done and the water dries up. I like the stalks to have a bit of crunch to them.
Add the garam masala and amchoor powder. Give it a good stir and remove from the flame. Serve hot.

Aarti Kapur Singh loves cooking as therapy from the strains of juggling a writing career, pursuing a doctorate and raising a ten-year-old.