1001 Water- and waste-wise ways: Have yourself a green Valentine's Day
Replace the cut flowers with a living plant. Prickles are not obligatory.

Replace the cut flowers with a living plant. Prickles are not obligatory.

Does the annual commercial mugging by pink hearts aka Valentine’s Day set your teeth on edge? I believe in love, and am a sucker for a truly romantic gesture, but waste-consciousness is yet another reason, if not to abstain, then to adapt your V-day habit. It’s become a sea of red paper, tinsel, yet more pink plastic puffery and mediocre chocs rattling around in way too much packaging.

The other day, I saw a delightful set of Green Valentine’s suggestions in a local high-school letter, and hoped to get permission to reprint them. But what with loadshedding (euphemism for rolling blackouts imposed by a national power supplier so corrupt and incompetent it can’t even keep the lights on), the messages didn’t get through. But the teenage author and I definitely have the same principal idea: DON’T BUY ANYTHING FOR V-DAY. (If you must, then read on for suggestions.)

Let’s start with the traditional items on the list: red roses. Sorry, but no. If you insist on cut flowers, try for something indigenous and local — that hasn’t been whizzed around the country or the globe in a cargo plane. In fact, replace cut flowers with a plant. A colourful pot plant can be just as beautiful as a bouquet, and even nicer is an edible plant, or something cute and quirky, like a water-wise succulent. (Look out for ones in rudely suggestive shapes, if that floats your honey’s boat.)

Next, chocolates and their ilk. Far be it from me to suggest you eschew chocolate, proven to lift the spirits. But have you looked closely at the packaging involved, especially for the kinds where the confections are not only in a box apparently designed by German car manufacturers, but individually wrapped? So what’s to do?

Break out an apron, and get baking. So many possibilities: heart-shaped biscuits, delicious coconut-date-nut balls for your vegan sweetheart, home-made peanut brittle (you can even make your own Nutella — ridiculously easy AND sans palm oil), and a thousand variations on chocolate brownies and muffins. (A friend makes legendary flour-free brownies with butter beans.) What’s especially nice about this kind of V-day gesture is that you’ll be making entire batches, so there’s a lot more love to go around – you can show up at your child’s school, your sewing collective, your workshop, or your book club with cupcakes for your colleagues, kids’ teachers, friends and even your enemies. Of which you will promptly have less.

Make a card, instead of buying one. Look around for a bright postcard to repurpose, or dig around in your craft supplies. Get your children in on the act. Ask them to think of people who might need a cheering word and will appreciate a pretty homemade card.

Yes, a special meal in a restaurant is nice. And it’s completely possible to have a low-impact or even zero-waste evening out (see this reminder of how cafes and restaurants can make a green difference). But consider whipping up something special at home. You and your spice can share the work: one of you can do a starter and pud, the other the main course and salad. Time to liberate all the candles in the house: thanks to &^%$# Eskom (see above), you’ll probably need them anyway.

Spa treatments? How about administering a massage or beauty treatment in the privacy of your own home? Trust me, giving a good back rub or scalp massage is NOT difficult. The ever-reliable Google will tell you how, and once again, You Tube is your friend (if your sensibilities are delicate, don’t click on anything that looks like porn.)

There are simple tricks that leave only delicate footprints on the earth: pour some oil (almond, coconut, olive) into a small dish and then place that in a larger dish of hot water for a minute, so that the oil warms up to blood heat. Add a few drops of fragrance oil or perfume. Apply to the skin of your sweetheart and rub in slow strokes. You’ll be popular. If that sounds too complicated, with potential for spilling or scalding, here’s a foolproof version: invite your dear one to choose a body lotion or cream they like from your bathroom cupboard, then pop it in the microwave for ten seconds. (Test the temperature at this point: it may need another five seconds.) The resulting warm, fragrant lotion is a winner. Warm flannels and hot towels are also good ideas. Just don’t set the house on fire.

But, but, the economy, you say: all those businesses that rely on this kind of “special day” commercial traffic. Doesn’t this green stuff cut them off at the knees?

This is not a day for a lecture on our blindly consumptive economy, so by all means splurge on a spa, or a restaurant meal, or a showy bunch of blooms if you have the means (try to pick a supplier that seems to be doing more than going through the green motions). But take your widowed friend out to dinner, send your elderly aunt the flowers, treat someone battling with physical or mental health issues to the spa pampering. Make it up to your loved one in kisses.

Finally, and this is for all the blokes out there: the single biggest thing you can do to reduce the waste you’ll generate in your lifetime and in perpetuity: have a vasectomy. It’s also the most romantic gesture you can ever make. Giving men the snip is infinitely more sensible than sterilising women (we’re fertile three days a month for thirty years, you’re a potential bunny rabbit every single day from puberty until the grave), as well as safer, cheaper, medically less invasive, etc.

Too much? OK, then try this, the sweetest V-day suggestion to land in my inbox: the option to send your crush a romantic card mentioning a date with a dreamy vet. VET?! OK, we’re trying to be cute here: animal sterilisation charity SA MAST have the loveliest idea of sending Valentine’s cards on your behalf to whoever makes your heart beat faster in exchange for a donation towards spaying or neutering a cat or dog in Khayelitsha. This poster did make my knees a little weak: the pics are for swooning. Here’s the link with all the details you need. Do this, and a whole lot of people and animals will have a genuinely happy Valentine’s Day.

Love4.jpg
Helen Moffett
1001 Water- and waste-wise ways: another lipstick blog
Squeezing out every last drop: Kate Sidley’s bathroom shelf.

Squeezing out every last drop: Kate Sidley’s bathroom shelf.

This might be my most frivolous blog yet, but the topic of waste reduction is so huge, bleak and complex, I thought I’d tackle something bright and fluffy for a change. Plus my water-wise lipstick blog was surprisingly popular.

So let’s talk about waste and beauty routines. Now I have a complicated relationship with such matters. Since I stopped showering/bathing/washing my hair as a matter of daily routine, I have been staggered by the improvement in my overall skin, hair and scalp health. I positively glow.

But few things make me as unpopular as urging similar lifestyle changes on my friends: washing hair only every seven to ten days, showering/bathing once a week, and using the bucket/damp flannel method the rest of the time. It’s the one thing that makes people dig in their toes. “You make me feel defensive,” grumbles a friend. “But I’m appealing to your vanity!”, I cry, pointing to my blooming phiz.

Then I spotted that the internet was in a tizz about newly elected New York representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s skincare routine. A SIX-STEP facial routine? With “double cleansing”? What bizarre ritual had capitalism invented for (mostly) women now? “Self-care!” everyone trumpeted.

This gives me the harumphs, until I realise that it’s all very well for me. I live in one of the most beautiful natural environments in the world, in which I can choose between several beaches, mountain trails, lake boardwalks or nature reserves for my daily destressing walk. Very few middle-class urban dwellers have these options (much less the poor or rural populations), so if patting your face for twenty mins every morning or night is a viable form of self-nurturing, I’m all for it. 

Nevertheless: the truth is that the beauty industry, which has wrapped its tentacles around all genders in the last few decades, is a snake-oil business that flogs mostly utterly needless products for astoundingly presumptuous prices. “Skincare has always been about putting money on your face,” says the Guardian’s Morwenna Ferrier.

My problem right now with this industry is the excessive amount of waste it generates. Think of all those tiny pots, lipstick cases, plastic shampoo containers, earbuds, facial wipes, the fussy “pretty” packaging, and more more more.

So let’s tackle this. First, I urge you to emulate my clever and beautiful writer/journalist friend, Kate Sidley (the photo at the top is hers): go through your bathroom cupboard and make-up box and use up absolutely everything in it before buying anything new. Cut open those weeny little obscenely priced tubes and scrape out the contents. Same with the samples you get in magazines. If elegant local actress Grethe Fox does this, so can you. (She refuses to take any credit: “It’s how we were brought up.”)

Buy biodegradable cottonwool earbuds, bamboo toothbrushes, washable make-up brushes and sponges. I may go a tad too far: reluctant to throw away my remaining regular cotton buds (I bought a jumbo pack years ago and am down to my last three), I strip off the ends to burn, and chuck the remaining plastic sticks into my eco-bricks.

 For decades now, whenever I reach the end of a lipstick (I hold no truck with Forever Young Yeah Right skin goo, but I dearly love make-up), I scrape out the bit left behind into a special pot, add a drop of almond oil, mix, and apply with a lip brush. Because this gets added to regularly, the colour is always changing, and it always suits me. A friend used to create fabulous art with lipstick, so for a while I collected everyone’s lipstick stubs and posted them off to her.

Red Bull, by Sarah Britten, lipstick artist.

Red Bull, by Sarah Britten, lipstick artist.

Another option is to make your own creams to put on your face: one of my favourite green gifts was a lovely pot of moisturizer made from scratch by a friend. Quite a few people are trying this, to reduce waste, save costs, protect animals, and avoid slathering chemicals on their skin. You Tube will drown you in videos showing you how (I picked this one at random because it didn’t start with an ad). Interestingly, friends who’re doing this say the most expensive ingredients are the pure scented oils. There has to be a way around this (eyes the lavender and herbs in the garden). You can make your own cosmetics, too: simply Google. This was the first link I found (another rabbit warren to explore! Check out the links to the Paris To Go Zero Waste blog, but set aside several hours — some fascinating stuff there.)

Hotels and guesthouses are already addressing the problem of the sea of little plastic shampoo, conditioner and shower gel bottles. (I once collected every single one I got on a poetry tour halfway round the world, and practically needed a second suitcase.) Trouble is, when they replace them with big bottles to be re-used by multiple guests, they have to bolt them to the shower walls to stop folk swanning off with them. Still, that’s the way to go, and in the meantime, donate those miniature bottles and soaps to organisations like Rape Crisis, who put them in comfort packages to give to children who’ve suffered unspeakable violation.

After three weeks of modest motels in Western Canada, I had already amassed these…

After three weeks of modest motels in Western Canada, I had already amassed these…


I leave you with this final thought: Julia Roberts was recently asked for her single most NB beauty tip. Hold onto your hats, here it comes, from one of the most iconic and bankable faces in the world: LOOK AFTER YOUR TEETH. There you have it. What’s more, she doesn’t use toothpaste. She brushes with bicarb. Be like Julia.

 

 

 

 

Helen Moffett
1001 Water-and Waste-wise Ways: "Are you still doing this?"
Yes, I’m still doing this. That’s water collected from wells, springs and rain sources, not bottled water.

Yes, I’m still doing this. That’s water collected from wells, springs and rain sources, not bottled water.

The other day, my sister dropped in for a cuppa and found me pouring well water splashily into my washing machine. “Are you STILL doing this?” she asked. Likewise, a friend drove past as I was filling bottles at a local spring, and stopped to ask the same question. And then an email popped up from the Teabag Elf (remember her? Still my favourite tipster) letting me know she missed my “Green Hat” blogs. (Sorry, TE, I was ambushed by extra work over the “holidays” and then a PC crash got me behinder and behinder.)

Yes, I am still 99% off the water grid. I run the dishwasher once a month to keep everything sanitary, as I do a lot of bottling, pickling, and knitting of yoghurt. And I still brush my teeth in municipal water and go round giving the taps short bursts now and again, because I have an irrational fear of critters moving into unused pipes. But it’s hard to believe that this time last year, Capetonians were trampling each other in supermarkets to score and stockpile bottled water, or that foreign TV crews were showing up to film my garden pressure-sprayer in action as a camping shower. I went past the water shop in the mall yesterday, and all was quiet: this where folk queued for hours to buy (filtered) municipal water a year ago.

What happened? For starters, the mass hysteria evaporated [groan]. Many now seem to believe that the entire water crisis was fake news.

It was not. We dodged a catastrophe. A trawl through the back issues of this blog will explain how and why the incoming mortar shell exploded (fairly) harmlessly in the air just before touchdown. But as far as I can make out from the PR (which I distrust deeply, and with good reason) coming from the City of Cape Town, we all deserve a “rest”, to “recuperate” from the trauma of having had to cut our individual water consumption to 50 litres a day. (Pity future generations won’t get any “rest” from the environmental disasters we’ve created.)

This, I suspect, is because of the economic impact of water restrictions on tourism to our heart-stoppingly beautiful, heart-stoppingly unequal, and heart-stoppingly fragile city. The message is clear: dear visitors with hard currency, you may shower and frolic in hotel pools as much as you like, and we’ll agree to ignore impending Armageddon. With notable exceptions (well done, Vineyard Hotel), my experience of the few guesthouses I stayed in last year was of being told “Oh, the water shortage doesn’t affect us, there are no restrictions here!” Offers to bring my own towels and questions about whether there was a water-collecting bucket in the shower were met with polite incredulity. Even when the Cape’s biggest dam stood at only 13% capacity.

The CoCT learned some important lessons: that agriculture — generator of food (you know, that stuff we need to eat three times a day) and the major source of employment for rural communities — needs to be a priority in allocating water use. Legumes before lawns, spinach before swimming pools. But UCT’s Prof Lesley Green and other notables have observed that while the City’s systems work fairly well for normal conditions, there has been little or no planning for the increasingly catastrophic effects of climate change.

My waste research has rubbed my nose in the fact that even as the world starts to burn (look at the Western Cape a few short weeks ago, at California, Australia, Tasmania), we stick our fingers in our ears and sing “la-la-la” when it comes to the impact our pesky species (or rather, its staggering greed-need to consume and insane emphasis on profit before survival) is having on the planet. So devastating as I find the merry assumption that our water troubles are over, I am not surprised.

The truth is that we got decent rains last winter. Decent. Not great, but not bad either. And that saved our rapidly frying bacon — but only temporarily. As of now, we are gamblers. We’ll be fine in the short-term if there are average to good rainfalls this coming winter. And the next. And the next. But there is no longer any guarantee of this: the one thing all the climate predictions agree on is that the weather is becoming increasingly, well, unpredictable. In terms of rain falling from the skies, we now live in an era of Russian roulette.

So to revert to putting drinking water on our lawns and in our pools because the water crisis “is over” is like having a kind aunt (Mother Nature in our case) pay off our credit card bills — and responding by rushing out to shop all over again. And that is why I am bitterly opposed to the relaxation of local water-saving regulations.

I confess I am heartily sick of bucket-bathing, and the smell of grey water (although Pro-Bac and juniper oil help). But I simply can’t bring myself to pour drinking water down a toilet ever again. Plus I find I’ve changed certain habits: even in winter, I manage bathing/sponging in cold or tepid water just fine — even though I used to be the ultimate hot-water sybarite. Plus I love the sense of independence my water-harvesting gives me: cutting out the municipal middleman.

Meanwhile, there are small but heartening signs that keep me from slitting my wrists: huge rainwater tanks in a small local informal settlement; rain-tanks everywhere, in fact, especially at institutions like schools. Frogs and a resident water snake in a once-chlorinated pool (the owner of said eco-pool has mixed feelings about this, not helped by her friends congratulating her on her good fortune).

Water-lily in what was once an expensive, electricity- and chemical-consuming pool. Now a beautiful eco-pool filled with rainwater, and the family swim in it every day.

Water-lily in what was once an expensive, electricity- and chemical-consuming pool. Now a beautiful eco-pool filled with rainwater, and the family swim in it every day.

The way journo Miriam Mannak’s washing-up water keeps gifting her with tomato and chilli plants; and in spite of the sun scorching my poor veg patch, the huge feral killer butternuts generated by my compost heap.

Four different kinds of tomato and chillies. From pouring washing-up water into pot-plants.

Four different kinds of tomato and chillies. From pouring washing-up water into pot-plants.

Meanwhile, the waste research goes on, although I’m going to have to draw a line soon, or I’ll be writing One Million and One Waste-wise Ways: plus the ongoing anguish about whether reducing waste actually has a significant impact continues to split my head. Especially with data now showing that the single biggest planet-saving act by a middle-class person is to have no children (fifty per cent greater impact than anything else, including living off-grid and giving up car and plane travel). Pointing this out is not going to win popularity contests. So I give you a butternut the size of a baby instead.

And here’s one of my rogue butternuts.

And here’s one of my rogue butternuts.

Helen Moffett
1001 Water- and waste-wise ways: The Great Christmas Conundrum
Here is a nice soothing picture (some of my favourite things) before I start my annual Christmas grump.

Here is a nice soothing picture (some of my favourite things) before I start my annual Christmas grump.

This is me, after venturing out to a mall yesterday.

This is me, after venturing out to a mall yesterday.

I am notorious for being a Grinch about what I call “Excessmess”. Over 30 years ago, I did my first Black Christmas (for political reasons, boycotting everything except the four Fs: family, friends, faith and food). However, once you’ve eschewed presents, decorations, cards, frenzied shopping-malls, that hissing sense of collective insanity that translates into Russian roulette on the roads and domestic mayhem when alcohol is mixed in — it’s hard to go back.

I’ve written about this fairly often — here’s one of my “well, if you MUST do gifts…” posts from Christmases Past. Look, there is no way to say this that doesn’t sound scoldy or slappably virtuous — but the holiday season is an absolute orgy of waste. Wasted food, tons of paper, packaging, single-use trinkets into landfills — you don’t need me to spell it out. But there are alternatives that don’t necessitate ruining family rituals — from tiny things, like wrapping gifts in your children’s drawings, or making gifts (time-consuming but satisfying, especially if it’s food), to the simple, like just sommer donating the gift budget to charity. Instead of presents for distant cousins, why not grocery vouchers for the service staff who’ve made your life a bit easier this year?

I’ve been decluttering for Christmas, which has done the planet, the beneficiaries and me the world of good. I now have LESS STUFF, and NPOs I care about have goods that fit their purposes and needs. (A little old lady in the Oasis charity shop SEIZED my twelve-year-old blender, and I had to chase after her to explain it didn’t handle pestos or grind nuts anymore. All good: she wanted it for salad dressings and soups. She was SO delighted. And right there, on the spot: my festive glow.)

My idea of the perfect Christmas tree. You can EAT it. (It’s a rosemary plant, trimmed.)

My idea of the perfect Christmas tree. You can EAT it. (It’s a rosemary plant, trimmed.)

But I’ve been thinking about kindness, and how we have not been kind to our home, Planet Earth. A good place to start is by actively cultivating kindness to everyone and everything — hopefully, the ripples will spread out. Here’s something I put on my Facebook page after a rather disastrous year:

’Usually at this time of year, I advise people to rest, to give to charities instead of doling out prezzies, to squeeze the people and four-leggits they love. Also to acknowledge that the collective madness about families, impossible myths of happiness and love, can make this an agonisingly difficult time of year. Many face the place at the dinner table that will never be filled again.

‘I hope that advice hasn't been patronising or saccharine. I still want to say the same, but with the kind of resonance that comes from thrashing with one's own mortality: something to be grateful for is that we're still here. Each year presents us with loss, often grievous, sometimes crippling. But we're still breathing, and we have work to do. We have a planet to safeguard, wars to prevent or ameliorate, and a thousand small gestures of kindness to make in our immediate circle.

‘How to be kind? Do unto others. How do we do that? The trouble with the advice of the man whose birth we're celebrating is that it's too radical for most: "Go sell all that ye have and give it to the poor." Here's the gentler version: use your imagination. That person is missing her dead mother; that man is tempted to drown his demons in drink; that woman feels sad that she isn't happy just because "it's Christmas!" Tell them you know things are difficult, you're there if they want to talk. If you’re not the talky type, distraction works wonders for the unhappy. Give them something useful to do and then thank them for doing it. Praise wherever praise is due. If you like something someone says or does or creates, TELL THEM.

‘If you need to creep away from people at this time of year, do it. If you have the heart and stamina for it, invite the isolated in.

‘And so many have pressing practical needs: they're hungry, they're unemployed, they're homeless. What the poor must think of the spectacle of middle-class consumption at this time of year makes me shudder. So give as generously as you possibly can, of your time, goods and money, to charities and non-profits. You can have enormous fun fitting projects to people: donate to an animal shelter or pay for a spay for your animal-loving aunt, plant trees or give to food garden projects for the gardening enthusiast, support child literary projects like Book Dash in honour of your booky pals — the list is endless. Google and even Facebook is a great help in finding perfect projects in your own backyard.

One of my favourite projects. Pic copyright Book Dash.

One of my favourite projects. Pic copyright Book Dash.

‘A friend recently mourned, "Why can't people be kind?" and got the response: "For many, this means giving up power." That is a terrible indictment of where we are now as a species. Kindness makes us vulnerable, but it is the most potent form of agency there is. It can change lives. In the end, it might recreate a habitable planet for all the life still on it.’

I wish all readers of this blog, of whatever faith tradition (or none), a safe and tranquil time over the next week.

PS: I said I didn’t do presents. I lied. Here’s one for my friends.

Colin Firth and cats.jpg


Helen Moffett
1001 Water- and waste-wise ways: Respecting food
Photo by Miriam Mannak

Photo by Miriam Mannak

There now, isn’t that a cheering image? And there’s a lovely story attached. Journalist Miriam Mannak takes water saving seriously, so all her washing-up water is poured onto her pot-plants. And there were obviously some tomato seeds in that water, and next thing, she was harvesting three different varieties of home-grown tomatoes…

A few days ago, I was in a mix of despair and disgust over perhaps the most (I hate to use this word, but it fits) immoral form of waste — food waste. But Miriam’s photo reminds me that sometimes we can do the opposite of wasting — that “recycling” food and water via seeds and soil is actually one of the most basic and necessary human activities. Taking part, even if it’s just a squash plant on our compost heap or a herb in a pot, is good for us and the planet.

The trouble with our throwaway culture is that we’ve extended it to food. You do not need me to tell you that this is just plain wicked (besides, I already did). But one problem is that the middle classes are no longer taught how to stretch food, use it thriftily, and work wonders with leftovers. My parents’ generation was excellent at this, because they grew up during or right after the deprivations of World War 2. Food was sometimes scarce, often sparse, and always seasonal — people cooked what was available, and every bite counted. But this takes a little skill (and a lot of common sense), and that skill has drained away with frightening speed in the last few decades. We may be addicted to TV cooking shows, but we have no longer have any idea what to do with a glut of lemons, or how to give leftover cheese sauce new life.

It’s surprisingly easy to turn ageing cabbage, turnips and radishes into pickles.

It’s surprisingly easy to turn ageing cabbage, turnips and radishes into pickles.

When I was sixteen, a change of schools meant that I started studying Domestic Science for the first time. Our matric textbook was a template for Christian National Education (it was assumed that only women cooked, that we were all white, and that we all had domestic workers — referred to as “servants”). I remember paging through the instructions on how to make our own preserves (OK, FAIRLY useful — I’ve always made my own chutney as a result), how to cater for “ladies’ teas” and children’s parties (including tricksy stuff like eclairs and Turkish delight), and the piece de resistance — making our own wedding cakes, right down to the marzipan and royal icing. “But this is useless,” I thought. “Where’s the section on how to stretch a pound of mince and a celery stalk into supper for six?” (I had to work it out myself: oats, grated carrot and lots of onion. It took several years before I discovered Indian shops and the glory of red lentils and proper spices.)

My parents were amazing in this regard: to this day, every third or fourth lunch or supper is an inventive combination of leftovers. From them, I learned the basics: runny or soggy leftovers (sauces, gravies, curries, cooked soft veg like cabbage, spinach, gem squash, marrows, mashed potatoes, carrots) can be whizzed into soup: fry an onion, toss in all the leftovers, add stock and maybe half a tin of chopped tomatoes, lots of herbs, garlic when papa isn’t looking, and blend. A stick blender is useful, but a fork and a strong arm will do the job.

Every now and again, I make “everything but the kitchen sink” soup, aka Worthy Minestrone. I round up the contents of the fridge, and add tomatoes, beans and pasta.

Every now and again, I make “everything but the kitchen sink” soup, aka Worthy Minestrone. I round up the contents of the fridge, and add tomatoes, beans and pasta.

More “intact” food (bits of chicken, sausages, cooked peas, beans, corn — along with cooked butternut, pumpkin, broccoli and cauli if not too soft, in which case, see soup above) can be sliced into salads, turned into sandwich fillings or (when all else fails) eaten cold with a dollop of mayonnaise. Hint: if you roast your veggies, they make wonderful salad ingredients the next day. To keep things interesting, put at least one fresh or new thing on the table as well.

So nothing edible in our house ever went into a bin: and if there were scraps, they went into the dogs’ bowls, the compost heap (and for several heady years, the resident pig). Thirty years on a smallholding nearly an hour from a town with shops also ingrained the very sensible habit of finishing the food in the house (barring a few staples) before replenishing supplies. And the spuds and cabbage from the veg garden were stand-bys, as well as fresh and delicious.

The holy trinity, both for reinventing leftovers and livening up carbs and legumes: onion, garlic, tinned tomatoes or tomato paste. I’d add a fourth: chillies. (And a handful of fresh herbs from that windowsill pot: mint, rosemary, basil, parsley, thyme, dhanya, wild rocket, garlic chives, lovage.) Millions of families do this routinely to stretch from payday to payday.

Avoiding food waste takes planning and thought, however, along with regular investigation of the fridge, the freezer (if you have one), and the pantry. You have to think 24 hours ahead, and plan menus. We’ve all been hearing about how women are saddled with what’s known as “emotional labour” even in households where domestic chores are supposedly shared. I sometimes wonder if one of the many things causing food waste is that women are fed up being the ones who have to remember to defrost the bolognaise sauce that’s been in the freezer for two months, and then check that there’s spaghetti to go with it. Since my papa’s retirement fifteen years ago, I’ve been most impressed at how both my parents have taken responsibility for shopping, food planning, and the composition of meals known as “seek and ye shall find”.

But the real expert on how to use your leftovers and fridge contents in the most economical but deliciously epicurian ways is my friend Megan Kerr. She has worked out a system so meticulous and scientific, it should win awards. It certainly delights the Food Gods. You can find it here; plus her blog has lots of excellent leftover ideas, all of which look delicious.

I may not be able to rise to Megan’s heights, but it’s from her that I learned to keep my fridge organised. This helps prevent that infuriating but familiar experience of finding something quietly mutating into a new life-form while lurking behind a jar of olives. Just making sure that the tallest things stand at the back, with the rest of the contents ranked by height, helps. Every other day, I open all the drawers/flaps to remind myself of what needs using up.

Bits of hardening cheese are grated, then frozen. Stale bread can be whirred into breadcrumbs (good for thickening soups and sauces) or turned into croutons. Or just toast. Elderly tomatoes can be roughly chopped and gently fried with lots of garlic and basil — they turn into a chunky sauce that can be frozen just about forever.

Baby tomatoes: snacks AND sauces.

Baby tomatoes: snacks AND sauces.

I’m no great jam-maker (too much sugar, too much fussing over pectin and jelling), but nearly all fruit can be turned into chutney or sauces for either sweet or savoury dishes (my plum and cardamon sauce is excellent with cheese, veggie burgers and pork — and also makes great ice cream). Ripe bananas can be peeled and frozen, then whizzed straight into smoothies. Wrinkly apples: peel, core and simmer with cinnamon, ginger and a spoonful of honey or brown sugar — the resulting fruit sauce can be spooned onto cereals or stirred into yoghurt. Berries and tropical fruits like paw-paw and mangoes can be blended with yoghurt or milk, as for smoothies, and then frozen. If you whir them up again before they’ve completely defrosted, you get rather nice slushies.

Buy only small amounts of green stuff like lettuce and cucumber that go off quickly (although one can make lettuce soup), and I turn cucumber into tzatziki as fast as I can, after which it keeps for five days or more.

As with many things, Google is your friend. If you have an unusual array of leftovers or pantry items, you can run them all into the search bar, and then add “recipe” — and see what comes up. This can be quite an adventure.

What are your best tips to avoid trashing food? Let me know!

Helen Moffett