Often when we travel, the foods we eat and our eating patterns are different from back home. We may eat out more, try many new foods, and have reduced access to grocery stores. Portion sizes may be different, and we may not have access to refrigeration, making it more tempting to not save leftovers and toss out extra food. This doesn’t mean, however, that we can’t keep food waste to an absolute minimum, even as we try new dishes and restaurants. Here are some tips for avoiding food waste while abroad.
Eating out is a very common practice while traveling, since it is so convenient and allows you to try a range of local foods you wouldn’t make by yourself. Unfortunately, the portion sizes at some restaurants can be massive, and it is not possible to eat everything on the plate. If you leave food on the plate at the end of your meal, the restaurant staff will just end up throwing it in the trash, and all that good food will end up in a landfill. To reduce waste in this situation, ask for a container to bring the extra food home in so that you can enjoy it later. In doing so, you’re saving both food and money from going in the trash, since you will get to eat all the food you paid for instead of only eating part of the meal and losing the rest. It is better for the environment since it doesn’t waste resources, and it also reduces the amount of greenhouse gasses produced since food won’t decompose in the trash. It also saves you money overtime since you won’t have to buy as much food!
Containers with leftovers from a restaurant: https://mediad.publicbroadcasting.net/p/wfae/files/styles/x_large/public/201208/leftys.jpg
Or, if the portions are continuously too big at restaurants and you don’t want to eat the same meal twice by bringing home leftovers, join forces with someone you’re traveling with and order one main dish for the two of you. In doing so, you’ll both get to enjoy the food when it is freshly made and not be overstuffed from trying to finish too much food. If one main dish isn’t quite enough to fill the both of you, you could also order a starter or dessert and try something else new or delicious.
Additionally, some restaurants will allow you to order a smaller portion of a dish that is a more reasonable size. They may have a smaller size listed on their menu, but some will also be accommodating and make a smaller portion even if it isn’t listed. This way, you don’t have to worry about finding a way to store leftovers, especially if the place you stay doesn’t have a fridge or you won’t be back to your room for several hours after eating and don’t want the food to spoil.
When possible, stay in a place that has access to a kitchen so you can cook your own food some of the time. Not only will it be cheaper overall, you can also cook an appropriate amount of for you, so nothing has to be thrown away. In doing so, you’ll also get the opportunity to explore markets or grocery stores and see what the locals buy and cook. It doesn’t have to be fancy food, and oftentimes you may not have access to a full kitchen. But that’s completely alright – a big variety of food can be made in a small space with limited cooking tools! And if you buy too much food and have leftovers at the end of your trip, find a friend to share it with or give it to an organization or person in the location you are staying in who can use leftover food for good.
Some hotels have small kitchens, like this one, and homestays tend to have kitchens available as well
Finally, when looking for places to stay and eat, try to avoid buffets when possible. They taste delicious, can be very convenient, and appeal to a large group of travelers, but they contribute a lot to food waste. Hotels and restaurants work to always keep the trays of food full so that guests feel like they are getting their money’s worth and have plenty of choices, except whatever is left over at the end of the meal or day gets trashed. This is a lot of food wasted over a short period of time, and it is best not to contribute to that industry.
Olivia Olson - Foodbank Việt Nam