Many of us buy too much food out of habit, and we throw out more than we should.

A recent news article reported that American families waste nearly 40 per cent of the food they buy. As Indian householders get busier and more frazzled, we too are losing a good bit of our vegetables and provisions to carelessness. One rotten tomato can spoil an entire kilo. Packaged beans from a department store may contain those which are too stringy to use. A cut piece of white melon may rot in the fridge. Meanwhile, vegetable prices are rising every day.

Sometimes we cook too much food for a meal and forget to refrigerate the rest so that it can be eaten for the next meal. Or we may forget the leftovers in the fridge till they are inedible.

Some families may buy too much food just out of habit. The monthly provisions list, relic of a time when families were large, may not suit small families. We no longer need to store large quantities of rice or pulses, which are available all year round. House guests nowadays call up before arriving, and there is usually enough time to stock up.

Families who shop at sleek department stores may also buy provisions in larger quantities simply because they are packaged in larger batches or marked as discounted.

Spices and nuts, often the most costly items in Indian kitchens, have to be treated with extra care to preserve their fragrance and taste. It is best to buy them in the quantities we are likely to use immediately.

Buying locally produced vegetables and fruits helps farmers in our region. When we shop at a farmers’ market, the profit goes to the farmer rather than the middle man. We also bypass the transportation, cold-storage and packaging costs that big stores pass on to customers.

Processed and packaged instant foods have made life easier for many families, but when we buy fresh ingredients and cook a meal from scratch, we swallow fewer preservatives and less salt, sugar and fat. We also get much more food for the money.

We can all adjust our food shopping and preparation to save our own money and to be less wasteful as consumers.

We also need to look at the larger picture. It takes so much labour, manure and water for a farmer to grow a kilo of tomatoes. It takes so much fuel and packaging to get it to market. It costs us some effort and money to get it home. Wouldn’t it be a shame to let it spoil before we sink our teeth into it?

(This is the third article in a 10-part series about how to live sustainably every day. It appears on Mondays. The next article is: Hole in the bucket)

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