A 2019 short video by reporter Gönna Ketels said more than 13 million Filipinos cannot eat three meals a day. However, abundant food for the growing middle class in the Philippines also meant an abundant 2,000 tons of food – or more – ending up in the garbage yearly, in Metro Manila alone.
One of the most shocking numbers I heard in the six-minute video is “an estimated 300,000 tons of rice are thrown away every year.”
When my brother was five, he asked our mom why we always brought home ulam (viand) from the restaurant but not the rice. “Hindi ba mas mahirap magtanim ng palay kesa magpakain ng baboy (Isn’t it more difficult to plant palay than feed pigs)?”
Out of the mouth of that babe. From then on, we finished our rice or brought it home, even if there were only three spoonfuls left.
At home today, we are a family of four, plus two pet dogs. We used to give all food leftovers to the dogs. They are gigantic at 30 kilograms each. They can eat everything. However, when we began our lower-waste lifestyle in 2018, we consciously decided to eat all our leftovers ourselves. But some days, it just cannot be helped: there are leftovers.
The family has a leftover quirk that makes our leftovers pile up. Husband and the girls won’t eat leftovers two meals in a row. Leftovers from dinner can’t be served for lunch the next day. They’ll eat the same thing for dinner again the next night instead. (Breakfast does not count as a meal for them.)
This only works when there are enough leftovers for another meal for four, or enough leftovers from two meals to feed all of us. This does not happen as I try to cook only what we can finish.
Everyday, I prepare pack lunches for my children to bring to school. On lazy days, I open a can of corned beef, dump potatoes and cabbage with it, and there’s an easy peasy lunch.
“I thought the cabbage came with the can!” exclaimed Achi the first time she opened a can of corned beef. She was nine. Apparently, when her friends brought corned beef to school, it had cabbage too.
What comes back from the kids’ lunches are sometimes irritating, sometimes bewildering and sometimes, downright funny. I send them off each with a quarter leg of fried chicken and they are back with two bites of meat left on the bone. The corned beef and cabbage are devoured, but potatoes come home.
Achi once brought home pork chop perfectly nibbled into a square two inches by two inches. She even brought home a “putok” bread (very chunky bread the shape of a xiaolongbao) nibbled into a perfect sphere. It is the same story with rice. There are usually two to three spoonfuls left.
They complain about being hungry after school, and I encourage them to eat their lunch leftovers. But sometimes, it doesn’t happen. My two peng-tang (飯桶 rice barrel) daughters will not eat ulam with no rice, and it’s often the ulam that is left over.
The solution to all these little bits of leftover is to toss all rice into a takeout container and all ulam into another and freeze them. When the containers are full, it’s time for a meal of mystery meat or mystery rice. All leftover meat and vegetables are chopped up into teeny pieces and recooked. It does not matter what they were to begin with. I usually do not include the sauces if they do not complement one another.
One recent mystery rice served for a Monday dinner consisted of a little bit of rice from three different times the previous week; a lot of seafood coconut rice (which Achi ordered) from a restaurant meal, ground beef with broccoli flavored with cumin and black pepper; 1.5 hotdogs; chicken cauliflower teriyaki; soaked shitake mushroom stems because I used up all the caps (from forever ago).
I currently have a separate food tub in the freezer only for chicken. There are currently three chunks from a lechon manok, two half-thighs of fried chicken, a bunch of chicken breast slices from different meals. Once this tub is full, I’m making Hainanese chicken rice.
The bonus here is that I can put vegetables in all these mystery meals. My children eat veggies on a regular basis so I don’t have to hide them. But if your children do not eat vegetables, this is a very good way to get some into them.
The amazing part here is that my family has not thrown out any food waste for the garbage collector for close to two years now. What we can’t eat we compost in the backyard.
Lately, I have been freezing fruit peel: pomelo, oranges, grapefruit, apple cores, papaya, melon and watermelon. I finally had enough melon rind to make a very sinful melon-rind candy (boiled in sugar water and dusted with more sugar). I am preparing to make pomelo and orange rind candy as well.
It is a treat for the children. It is good for the environment. How much better can it get?