On Sunday Richard and I threw caution to the wind. We shelved all our carefully made plans to see movies, tend our vegetable garden,  get a couple of hours of intense work in and read for a couple of hours too.  Instead we set ourselves a major new challenge.

I was lying in bed reading on Sunday morning after a  rather indulgent and very good Saturday evening meal at Zest in Pretoria when I was rather struck by an article,  The writer’s challenge: Food waste on The Guardian website. Guardian columnist Zoe Williams was given the challenge to live off her store cupboards and her veg box for a week. To supplement what she hand on hand, she was only allowed to buy eggs and cheese.

I thought it was a great idea to try to eat for a week from your grocery cupboard. And in our case from the vegetable garden too. We haven’t bought any vegetables (other than some onions, a couple of kilograms of potatoes, garlic and lemons) for four months now but the growing season seems to be slowing down so now was a good time to explore the store cupboard and follow Zoe’s example by using what we had and trying not to shop at all for a week. Would it be possible to go for a whole week without finding myself loading up a trolley in the supermarket?

In fact I was so inspired that I wondered if we could do this for more than a week? Could we actually eke out the supplies for a month? I am always trying to run down our supplies before shopping again. I never succeed. Maybe this was my chance. Richard insists that my ideal grocery cupboard is an empty grocery cupboard. But he would, since he’s a squirrel. He likes to know there are at least a couple of tins of tuna in the cupboard and a chicken in the freezer.

I clicked on the link to sign up for the food waste challenge and was disappointed to discover that the challenge for readers was not nearly as exciting as the challenge to Zoe Williams. The readers’ challenge was merely to promise not to throw away any food at all for one week.

I do think that is an admirable challenge but it didn’t feel quite big enough, even though I am sure we do throw away more food than we’d care to admit.

As the Guardian says ‘The average UK household throws away 5kg of food a week – the equivalent of a whole chicken, garnished with 22 carrots and 11 potatoes… If just one hundred of us sign up, that will be 500kg less waste. If 500 people sign up that would be an amazing 2500kg of waste.’

I tentatively mentioned my version of the challenge to Richard. What did he think of the idea of seeing how long we could eat from our store cupboard and vegetable garden without shopping? To my delight he jumped at it but he wondered exactly how much food we had in the kitchen. We don’t have a pantry. Our kitchen cupboards were really very badly designed  (by us) and incredibly chaotically kept. We have a drawer for baking ingredients, a narrow but awkwardly deep grocery cupboard, a spice drawer, a tea drawer and a small cupboard for jams and cereals.

Surely it was not going to be possible to survive very long without shopping? In fact maybe we should have rushed out and stocked up before we started the challenge? We should definitely have allowed ourselves to have bought more than Zoe’s cheese and eggs.Perhaps we should have given ourselves permission to buy ten items not two?

Ten minutes later we were in the kitchen unpacking all the groceries from our cupboards, the fridge and the freezer. We weighed, measured, categorised and listed all the food. We went out into the vegetable garden to see what we’d be harvesting in the next week. We did a major food audit.

We started with the pasta. Every shape and size you could wish for. Everyday macaroni  bought from our local supermarket and all manner of exciting shapes and brands bought from Super Sconto in Louis Botha Avenue, Orange Grove. There were teas and coffees from all over the world – coffee beans from Laos and Ethiopia, herb and flower tea from the Italian Alps and Lithuania, nettle tea, chamomile tea, rooibos tea, spiced chai, green tea , Thé à L’opéra from Mariage Frères Mariage Frères Thé Blanc Rose, Fauchon Bountons de Rose, Kuhestan Organic Damask Rose  Extract (two bottles). Vanilla – pods, paste, extract, essence, sugar. Saffron, sumac and sesame seeds. 

Fauchon Boutons de Rose

How exciting: we had a chest of forgotten treasures!

But it was also a shameful experience. It made me feel sick, not joyous.

Seven kinds of flour, five kinds of rice, three kinds of dried mushrooms, over a kilogram of seaweed, all the olives, the seeds, the nuts, the jars, the tins, the packets….

I felt deeply embarrassed by the amount of food we had on hand. And part of the reason I felt so ashamed is because I have been following A Girl Called Jack for quite some time now. Her blog posts always make me think. They make me think about how we moan and complain about trivia, how we have too much unnecessary stuff, how we don’t take charge of a situation and make things better for ourselves – never mind for others –  how we don’t speak up and how we don’t always take pleasure in cooking a simple inexpensive meal that can be delicious even (and especially) when you’re operating on a tight budget.

I’m trying to think of something to do to assuage that guilt. Other than thinking more carefully about what I buy, throw away etc. I’m trying to think about doing something like Mazi Mas does. I love what they do. Can I do something similar in Johannesburg? I’m not sure, but maybe in a couple of months I might try.

In the meantime I’ll post the results of the food audit here. I’ll think about food waste. I’ll think twice before shopping. And in the next few weeks I’ll post some of the recipes for the very exciting and utterly delicious meals we have been making. This week, so far, we have not set foot in a shop. How nice for a change! We still have more food than I’d care to admit to (other than to the readers of this blog).  The cooking has been a whole lot of fun too. And guilt and shame aside I’m going to enjoy the rest of our food waste challenge.

Tins and jars of food

INVENTORY FOR THE GREAT “NO-WASTE” FOOD EXPERIMENT, MARCH 8 – MARCH __, 2014

1.     PASTA:

  • 500g pkt Woolies macaroni
  •  + 200g loose macaroni
  • 500g Woolies wholewheat linguini
  • 500g Chitarra
  • 500g Rummo trenette No 14
  • 500g Woolies spaghetti
  • 500g Nidi semola
  • + 375g Rummo spaghetti
  • 250g Serena cannelloni
  • 250g organic pasta shapes (Thomas the Tank Engine!)
  • + 250g conchiglioni 87/b loose
  • + 125 fettuccini a nido

2.     RICE:

  • 85g basmati rice
  • 212g brown basmati rice
  • 139g brown basmati rice
  • 350g arborio rice
  • 123g red rice
  • 992 sushi rice

3.     PULSES:

  • 1098 green lentils
  • 1kg dried chickpeas
  • 500g red lentils
  • 620g quinoa
  • 189g polemta
  • 500g bulgur wheat
  • 293g pearled barley

4.     DRIED MUSHROOMS

  • 35g Norwegian dried mushrooms
  • 25g porcini
  • 15g shiitake mushrooms

5.     DRIED FRUIT, SEEDS AND NUTS:

  • 406g apricots
  • 434g pecans in shells
  • 767g McGregor almonds in shells
  • 151g ground almonds
  • 390g + 330g sunflower seeds
  • 38g breakfast seed mix
  • 348g sesame seeds plus 168g sesame seed
  • 132g mainly brazils
  • 122g linseeds
  • 150g poppy seeds
  • 29g coconut flakes
  • 127g dates
  • 338g desiccated coconut
  • 66g roasted salted peanuts
  • 80g golden raisins
  •  200g popcorn kernels
  • 250g halva

6.     BREAKFAST CEREALS:

  • 1142g granola
  • 222g cocopops
  •  751g Jungle Oats
  • 200g unknown and strange cereal (infested with moths  – so we threw it out…)

7.     + ORIENTAL ODDS AND ENDS:

  • 136g noodles
  • 406 Thai rice paper wrappers (much of it broken!)
  •  230g + 40g Wakame seaweed
  • 478g dried seaweed (unidentified)
  • 13 sheets of nori
  • 24g another unidentified kind of dried seaweed
  • 106g miso
  •  10 wraps

8.     BAKING STUFF:

  • 630g self-raising flour
  • 40 g Instant dry yeast
  • tin of ‘old school’ yeast
  • 157g + 340g wheat bran
  • 876g + 253g nutty wheat flour
  • 2.5kg  white sugar
  • 1kg white flour
  • 490g corn flour
  • 702g demerara sugar
  • 111g chick pea flour
  • 89g buckwheat flour
  • 518 icing sugar
  • 450g palm sugar
  • 150g rice flour
  • 800g Doppio zero flour
  • Epsom salts, bicarb, baking powder, cream of tartar, Fauchon Bountons de rose, Kuhestan Organic Rose     Extract concentrate; almond essence, vanilla essence, vanilla pods

9.     CONTENTS OF THE FRIDGE:

  • 1 ½ kg + 1kg Greek yogurt
  • 6 stewed plums
  • Olive oil/garlic/lemon mix for marinating olives
  • Green bean bredie (one smallish meal)
  • 270 g parmesan
  • 37g chevre
  • 107g cheddar
  • 121g salami
  • 600g tofu
  • ½ small jar of John West ginger
  • 100mls horseradish sauce
  • 60g creamed horse radish
  • 40g capers
  • 35g anchovies
  • ¼ jar sambal oelek
  • Small jar Seychellois tamarind atchar (v. hot)
  • ½ tiny jar ginger jam
  • Juice of preserved lemon
  • ½ small jar of Choppy Choppy spicy condiment
  • 30mls pomegranate syrup
  • small jar preserved ginger
  • 4 half jars of various olives
  • syrup from preserved ginger
  • ¼ small jar preserved hot chilli
  • ½ jar mayonnaise
  •  Jar mango atchar
  • ¼ tube of umami paste brought back from the UK when we were last on the boat + small jar of “umami shake” from Food Bloggers Indaba stunning goody bag– must do taste comparison
  • 2 teaspoons of home-grown chopped chilli
  • 1 green pepper
  • 3 carrots

10.    FREEZER

  • 6l milk
  • 8 fishcakes
  • 3 pkts frozen lovage and lettuce soup (from garden)
  • 1 pkt homemade tomato sauce (from garden)
  • 2 pkts homemade… vegetable soup, or watery tomato sauce
  • Frozen rice
  • Few bits of left-over pastry
  • Several ½ packets of coffee and coffee beans
  • Frozen eggwhite
  • Two vegetarian hotdogs
  • 1/4 packets of seafood mix
  • 1/4 packet of frozen blueberries
  • Olive toffee – don’t ask

11.    TINS, PRESERVES ETC:

  •  2.5kgs artichoke hearts
  • 400g Italian peeled tomatoes x 11 tins
  • 400g Italian cherry tomatoes x 7 tins
  • 400g Italian chickpeas x 1 tin
  • 400g Italian haricot beans x 1 tin
  • 400g cannellini beans x 1 tin
  • Three big preserve jars of McGregor olives
  • Two jars of flopped olive jam
  • Two jars of preserved tree tomatoes
  • 1 small jar green fig preserve
  • 1 small jar prickly pear jam
  • 1 small jar za’atar
  • 1 small jar preserved caper berries
  •  2 small jars McGregor black olives in olive oil
  •  I small jar Japanese preserved ginger
  • 1 ½ small jars of tahini
  • 2 small jars marmalade
  • 1 <15-year-old tin of sliced water chestnuts
  • 1 jar French-style mayonnaise
  • 500g wild blossom honey
  • 1 Korma curry paste (Woolies)
  • 1 Thai red curry paste
  • 1 ½ pkts plain pappadums
  • 400g coconut milk x 2 tins
  • 170g tuna x 1 tin
  • 200g custard powder

12.    FATS AND OILS

  • 2.1l olive oil
  • 900ml pure coconut oil
  • 40ml truffle flavoured olive oil
  • 30ml sesame seed oil

13.    CONDIMENTS, ETC

  •  300mls Soya sauce
  • 500mls Sushi vinegar
  • 400mls mirin
  • 100mls sweet chilli sauce
  • 470g Mrs Balls chutney
  • 100mls + 300mls tomato sauce
  • 50mls hoisin sauce
  • 70mls white balsamic cream
  • 125mls Worcestershire sauce
  • 100mls + 300 mls fish sauce
  • 125 rice wine vinegar
  • 80mls balsamic reduction
  • 350mls apple cider vinegar
  • 10mls tobasco sauce
  • 100mls sake
  • 500g maple-flavoured syrup
  • Jar of marmite

14.    VEGETABLE GARDEN:

  • Several cabbages
  • The last of the tomatoes
  • One meal or so of potatoes
  • Lettuces
  • Rocket
  • Onions
  • Spring onions
  • Basil
  • Eggplant
  • Red peppers
  • 6 or 8 measly sweetcorn cobs
  • The last of the beans
  • A few baby marrows
  • Swiss chard and spinach
  • Many tree tomatoes
  • Many granadillas
  • Three watermelons (one largish, two smallish)
  •  5 bananas – bought
  • 1 ½ cloves garlic – bought
  •  3 (bought) potatoes

–       2 onion garlics

15.    WHAT WE THREW AWAY

  •  One roll of phyllo pastry
  • Half a roll of puff pastry
  • ½ small jar of John West ginger syrup only gone solid
  • 1/3 jar of sulphurous trout caviar left over from Christmas eve
  • Part jar of chunky salsa 
  • Two small quantities of ageing cream cheese
  • ¼ homegrown red cabbage
  • 4 prickly pears (horrible ones)

16. WHAT WE HAVEN’T LISTED

  • The teas and coffees
  • The spices and herbs
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