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I’m having a friend for dinner – again

I’ve just tossed out the last of the holiday leftovers. Turkey, salad, meatballs, roasted potatoes with truffle sauce… It’s common to buy too much, isn’t it? We all want to set a nice table with an impressive meal but the Dutch lockdown situation meant flocking from one intimate dinner party to the next.

My brother was up first on Christmas Eve. He had ordered a special four-course Greek meal for all of us that was served buffet style: take whatever you like and as much as you like! We did.

I had to give kudos to my father (who hates to see meat go to waste) as he dedicated himself to the food as if playing musical chairs. He was the last one sitting. And although we were all sipping our teas and coffees 100% stuffed (I never had so much baklava in my life), there were still two full plates of lamb left – untouched. You guessed it; we all went home with doggy bags.

The next days are a blur of take-out menus, brunches, lunches and cleaning up the war zone that was our kitchen. It doesn’t help that the traditional Dutch New Year’s Eve treat of oliebollen (oil balls – I assure you they taste much better than they sound!) are made with tonnes of flour, oil, sugar, cinnamon, raisins (soaked in rum is optional but recommended) and powder sugar. A guaranteed mess.

It’s easy to create a batch of a dozen the size of your fist. Fun fact: some say the Dutch settlers took the recipe with them to the Americas, where it later evolved into the classic snack – the doughnut.

I have to admit my boyfriend and I also got the ingredients for the nation’s second favourite sweet snack of appelflappen (apple turnovers) but didn’t even start preparing them as we were neither hungry nor in the mood for further culinary shenanigans.

When the party’s over…

Suffice to say, I’m dealing with something of a food hangover. After putting the dishes back in their place, I decided enough was enough. I opened the fridge and scanned it for the remains of the holiday, quickly scooping up the half-full containers and aluminium-covered oven bowls and making my way to the green bin. Out plopped and gushed the food. An oddly cathartic noise.

‘Ah, that’s for the best,’ I heard from a voice in the living room. My boyfriend, who will usually eat the tiniest fragments of scrap rather than throwing them out, was equally ‘done with it’. Eating should be fun, after all. But after having yet another friend for dinner (I love that line by Hannibal Lector), we just wanted to kick off our shoes and opt out of social conventions for a bit.

The last two weeks of holidays, birthdays and long overdue meet-ups made me think of the global problem that is food waste. An unsexy topic that typically surfaces at this time of year, drenched in body image issues and social injustice. The global scale of this waste stream is said to top 1.3 billion tonnes a year. To put it into perspective; that’s almost a third of total food production.

I’ve looked up the stats for my country. It turns out, Dutch consumers generate around 590 million kg of food waste every year. In the US the figure is almost twice as high. In many developed countries, 30-40% of total food supplies ends up in the garbage bin. This includes perfectly good produce, meat and fish from restaurants that are past the use-by date. In fact, this sector in the US throws away food worth US$ 162 billion (EUR 143 billion) annually.

Can you believe it? I suppose it’s an invisible issue for most of us if we judge our bad habits on a plate-by-plate basis. But food scrap adds up, clearly. On the flip side, the practice of prepping meals (typically a week in advance) has taken off in recent years – with the global meal kit delivery service sector expected to be worth US$ 8.9 million by 2025. Also, more and more people are using the Too Good To Go app to combat food waste while saving money.

I’m not one to cling to New Year’s resolutions but perhaps we could be a bit more mindful about what goes into our shopping carts and our bodies. I bet we’ve all heard this phrase: ‘You eat with your eyes’. Consider this: if we binge less, surely the sweet will taste sweeter? It’s a theory worth testing in 2022.   

An interesting video on the same topic:

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