Most of my recipes start from trying to eat locally. However, this is quite hard to do at this time of year unless you eat a lot of smoked salmon and turnip. I exaggerate, of course, but early spring is a lean time for eating from the garden. Locally produced food is of such wonderful quality, but the reliability of supply means that it is hard to stock to local food only.
And now, here is the reason for loving my freezer. I still have broad beans, home grown from last summer, and tonight I had a most delicious stew made with local beef. Both of these were only available for a limited period last year. We also picked boxes of brambles at a secret location possibly near you, and I have these stashed away, ready for when I am inspired to use them.
In fact, there’s not much that can’t be frozen. I also cook large portions of food, and we regularly eat half and freeze half for another time. It is also a good way of stashing food that is cheap at the co-op: what to do with reduced cost punnets of fruit and no jam jars? Freeze until you have time to make jam! You can also freeze yoghurt, and many other co-op specials. The Scottish Co-op is very good at pricing to sell rather than throwing away, and it is one of the supermarket chains that has done the most to reduce waste: as a result, some things are cheap on the day they expire and they can still be frozen for later.
The website ‘Love Food, Hate Waste’ has an excellent freezer section with ideas on how to get the most from your food and your freezer. I have started saving the breadcrumbs that used to get swept away: in freezer bag in the fridge, they are ready for use in a second. They also suggest freezing all kinds of things like portions of mashed potato, or grated cheese.
But the reason why my freezer is my best friend, first and foremost, is because it brings me one step closer to eating local food.
Freezers and the environment
To everything, there are two sides. A freezer may help me in my quest to spend my money locally and invest in the local economy. However, they also account for around 20% of the energy used by domestic electrical appliances. The EU has helped us improve our buying habits and also our waste management for old fridges and freezers. The energy labelling system was introduced as a consequence of consumer and political pressure. As a result, over the last 15 years, the energy efficiency of domestic appliances has increased by up to 20% every four years.
The EU energy label has been in place for over a decade. It rates efficiency in colour bands from A to G, with green A being the best, and G being the worst. There are now additional classes called A+ and A++. It is now the law that the label must be shown on all refrigeration units. Generally, chest freezers are not as efficient as upright models. A freezer bought before 1999 could be anything up to a G rating. New laws state that labelling information should also state energy consumption; remember that a larger appliance may use more energy, even if it has an equivalent rating.
There are several features to look out for to make sure your freezer is even more environmentally friendly. Some relate to the kind of freezer you buy, and other features are more to do with how you use your freezer. So-called ‘Frost-free’ freezers are more efficient, as defrosting and refreezing uses a significant amount of energy. The frost-free models do not use any more electricity to run, and save time. Look out for fast freeze settings; these use extra energy, and should be used cautiously. There is also a trend to buy bigger and bigger freezers. A big freezer, however good the rating, is going to use more power than a smaller model. Also try to buy a freezer that is CFC-free (check the label). For the most efficient and ethical freezer purchases, try looking at www.which.net or www.sust-it.net. I also looked at the ethical consumer website. Then try and buy locally.
As for using your freezer more effectively, let me dispel one myth for you straight away: a full freezer uses just the same energy as an empty one, no difference. On the other hand, a door left ajar, a damaged or dirty door seal, these really rack up the energy consumption. Look out for freezers with door alarms to prevent the door getting left open by accident. Some features of freezers can minimise heat loss when the door is open: transparent drawers let you see what you are looking for quickly. I also use a lot of labelling for stuff in the freezer for the same reason. It is also a good idea to invest in a freezer thermometer, and adjusting the settings to keep the freezer around -18C. Try not to install your new freezer in a hot place; that won’t help it work at all. Avoid direct sunlight as well, for the same reason. It seems obvious, but don’t put hot food into the freezer; let it cool first.
New freezer, old freezer: Is it ethically OK to chuck out an old freezer that works OK and get a new one? Not easy to answer. It is not just about comparing the energy efficiency; this about the environmental cost of getting rid of the old one, and the materials and energy consumed in making and transporting the new one. For a fridge that is greater than five years old, replacement is often the best environmental option, as long as your new freezer is rated A+ or A++.
Under EU regulation, shops must help customers recycle old freezers, amongst other things. This may be that they support the council’s recycling scheme, or offering something similar. When buying a new appliance, see if they will take away your old one. CnES has its own appliance ‘recycling’ site at Market Stance. I’m not sure how it works, but they are not being added to the general landfill site, and hopefully they are managed to ensure that CFCs do not leak out into the atmosphere.
You could always freecycle your old freezer, offering it to someone who would not be able to purchase their own. However, I wonder… if it was too inefficient to justify using it yourself, how can you then justify allowing someone else to use it? Oh, how I lie awake at night, fretting! But on the plus side, think of all the wasted food that has been avoided, and all the local food that has been consumed.