The TV chef and bestselling author tells Harry Guerin about her involvement in the STOP Food Waste Movement, and how we can all play our part.
A survey by the newly established STOP Food Waste Movement (www.stopfoodwaste.ie) has found that 51% of people waste food regularly, with 30% of the food we buy ending up in the bin at a cost of €1,000 per household per year. The campaign to raise the public's awareness and improve food habits was launched by Rachel Allen, Kevin Thornton and Donal Skehan in Dublin earlier this week. Rachel Allen told Harry Guerin how we can all play our part.
Harry Guerin: The statistics concerning food waste in Ireland are shocking. Is part of the problem people's ignorance or fear when it comes to 'Best Before' and 'Use By' dates?
Rachel Allen: Well, I think there's a lot to be said for that. A friend of mine always says, 'Best before doesn't mean bad after'. We have to be aware of the fact that our parents and grandparents before us were able to smell things and taste things and be aware of when something was off and when it wasn't.
HG: And they survived without fridges. We've all become a bit too mollycoddled.
RA: We have! That's a really good way of putting it.
HG: So, what are your tips for people with leftover food?
RA: I think there's a lot to be said for actually planning your meals slightly in advance in the week. Now obviously it's not going to be realistic all the time - because all of our weeks pan out differently - but I think a lot of the time we can say, 'Ok, I know Wednesday night I'm going to be back home late. I know Friday night I might put a chicken into the oven because I might be back a bit earlier'. I think we can kind of work things out like that and shop accordingly. And also, don't shop when you're hungry - that's the worst time to shop!
HG: How did you become involved with the campaign?
RA: Well, it's something I've always been interested in. When I heard that they [Environmental Protection Agency] were starting the campaign - the movement as such - I got talking to them. It's hugely important to me and it's something [not wasting food] that my mother has done since we were little with all her soups. My mother-in-law Darina [Allen] is a huge advocate of that in Ballymaloe Cookery School. She hates waste. The movement is perfectly in sync with the way I think.
HG: In terms of Christmas leftovers, what are your tips?
RA: Well, definitely have in your repertoire a few recipes that will use up leftovers. Leftover turkey and ham are the best ingredients to have in the kitchen for leftovers. You can make omelettes and frittatas out of them; you can put them into soups, pasta dishes, pies. It's very easy to over-shop at Christmas, and that's something all of us do to a certain extent because the shops aren't open Christmas Day and you think, 'We might starve!' But actually, we're not going to starve. Make sure you use all that food and if you don't, then freeze it.
HG: I think Christmas food always tastes nicer the day after anyway.
RA: I totally agree.
HG: It's like when you were a child and things always tasted nicer off someone else's plate.
RA: Has anything changed?!
HG: Are you doing the cooking this Christmas?
RA: I am, with my husband. I'll probably ask everyone over on Christmas morning. We normally try to have people over on Christmas morning and I like that. Anyone can come over for drinks so that's kind of a good way to start the day. It's always hectic coming up to Christmas and then it suddenly slows down and it's just lovely.
HG: Did you ever have a Christmas cooking disaster?
RA: Do you know what? I never did.
HG: Then did you ever try to cook something as a teenager at Christmas and it was a disaster?
RA: I think my mum always kept a bit of an eye!
HG: What's your advice to people if they've drawn the short straw or have volunteered to cook Christmas dinner?
RA: Make a list - what has to be done, what can be done a few days in advance, what needs to be done a bit later - then space it out. That's the only way to do it: space it out. The stuffing can be made days and days in advance. The cranberry sauce can be made days and days in advance. A little organisation can go a long away. I'll be making the list!
HG: And people shouldn't be too hard on themselves with these things if there are some mishaps along the way.
RA: [Laughs] No! If you're sitting around the table, you're with your loved ones. You're all sitting there, you're happy and you have a glass in front of you. Once everything is there or just about there on the table, are you really critical and fussy? I don't think so. It's about the people, it's about the day, it's about actually being thankful for what we have.
HG: And not throwing it out afterwards.
For more information on the STOP Food Waste Movement, visit: www.stopfoodwaste.ie.