Most articles that talk about saving on your grocery bills focus on either (1) identifying which shops, grocery stores, or online outlets you can get groceries for less, (2) using coupons, loyalty cards/points, vouchers or other such money-saving tactics, or (3) buying cheaper food alternatives or not buying certain things. There might also be some articles on dumpster-diving, bartering, or growing your own food as a means of saving on groceries. But where I’m going with this article is completely different, I promise.
The “Root” of the Problem
There was an early childhood memory that still today remains vivid in my mind. It was a scene of all the ladies in our household – my grandmother, my mum, my aunts and me – seated at a round table plucking the roots of mung bean sprouts (dou ya). We ate bean sprouts quite frequently, as they were cheap and some of the family members were vegetarians. While these 3 generation moments were treasured memories of family bonding, they were spent doing something I now think was quite silly.
As a little girl, I would ask, “Why do we pluck these?” And someone would answer, “Because these roots are dirty and we don’t want to eat the part that touches the dirt.” I later discovered (on a school field trip, as these were pre-internet days) that bean sprouts were grown hydroponically. That means, they’re grown in water, and never touch soil.
Unfortunately, this new knowledge fell on deaf ears. And I couldn’t just show my family a video of it (again, these were pre-internet days).
My family had established this ritual, and it was so embedded into their beliefs that the mere sight of “dirty roots” was enough to spoil their appetite. But I knew better. So as soon as I was on my own (at uni), I started eating the roots. It also helped that I was too busy to bother with plucking them.
But this experience taught me an important lesson: food is not defined by what is edible and nourishing. It is defined culturally. For example, Singaporeans might scoff at Westerners who throw away the best part of the fish – the head. But in the Westerner’s mind, they’re just getting rid of “that part which we don’t eat”, much like the way my family discarded the sprout roots.
You Are Not So Sophisticated or Enlightened
Later when my extended family found out about my root eating habits, they called me lazy. And I would say to them, “it’s your reasoning that’s faulty.” I would go on to explain the logic, while thinking proudly that I was just more sophisticated in my understanding.
But recently I began to ask myself, “What is my bean sprout root equivalent today?” It turned out I wasn’t as sophisticated as I thought.
I too had also developed rituals based on beliefs of what I considered to be food. Upon examining my habits, I started becoming very aware of all the ends, peels, and pieces I would toss into the garbage while preparing meals.
And after confirming the edible nature of these discarded pieces, I decided to do an experiment. I decided that I would not get rid of any parts that were edible. Instead, I would try to eat them or find a use for them.
Four Months of Eating “Those” Parts
I stopped trimming the stems of broccoli, cutting off the tops of carrots, the bottoms of celery, and the ends of cucumbers. The photo below shows some bits and pieces (except for the cabbage slice near the centre, which was included for reference). Many of these pieces (except the cabbage slice) I might have discarded in the past.
Not. Any. More!
I stopped thinking an apple has a core and just cut the whole thing up. It turns out, there’s no core – you only need to avoid the seeds! I even kept many of the peels and rinds of the fruits I ate. Some peels (mango peel, papaya peel) I used in stir fry dishes; others (banana peel) I air fried and had as snacks. And some peels/rinds/skins from things like watermelons, carrots, daikons, and potatos, I just ate.
Some of the rougher root/end pieces of vegetables I would pressure cook to soften them up. They were also great for making broth.
The Savings & Other Benefits
After four months of doing this and reducing my food waste to near zero (just by not discarding ends and scraps), I ended up saving an average of 12%! Yeah, I was totally surprised too!! But just think about it. We probably cut away and discard about one-tenth of these fruits and vegetables in the preparation process.
They are probably the most filling and nutritious parts. Of course, you need to do your due diligence to make sure they’re edible. And some things I just can’t figure out a use for them (like durian husks).
Did I eat things that weren’t so tasty? Yes, definitely. Some parts can be really tough to chew and others can have a bitter or more “earthy” taste. But despite that, I felt as if I ate better food and I felt fuller (due to all the extra fibre).
And after months of doing this, I’ve starting becoming more tolerant of bitter foods. Before the industrialisation of food, many things our ancestors ate were bitter and not so good tasting. But I’m sure they were loaded with nutrients.
As mentioned in a previous article on food waste, there are examples like this all around us. For instance, people pay big bucks to have the luxury of eating escargot. But did you know that the common Singapore snail is exactly what they’re paying for?
The biggest lesson for me was that I need to constantly re-examine my beliefs. That even though I might feel smug about something that the older generation has gotten wrong, I probably do the exact same thing and have the exact same faulty logic today as they did in the past.
So I need to continue to ask myself, “What is my bean sprout root equivalent today?”