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Cooking Without Refrigeration

My grandmother in India cooks exactly enough food for one day. No leftovers allowed in a humid climate with poor refrigeration.

Photo of Sruti Bharat
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I am always amazed at my grandmother's instinct to cook exactly the right amount of food for one day. Leftovers are considered unhealthy in her part of India. In such a humid climate, bacteria can bloom on unsuspecting scraps of dal, rice, or sabzis (vegetables). Electricity is unreliable, so refrigerators can unexpectedly turn off for hours (recently, my grandmother contracted a terrible case of pancreatitis, most likely a fluke event from food left a few minutes too long in a broken fridge). So she cooks exactly the right amount in the morning, and the food she makes lasts for both lunch and dinner. The rare bits of excess are given to the downstairs watchman or the maid. 

When she teaches me to cook, it seems like more of an art than a science - measurements are imprecise, measured by coin-sizes or "this much of your palm." But she knows exactly how much tamarind is needed for a family of four to eat sambar for two meals. When she peels squash to put in vegetable kootu, she grinds up the peelings with spices and lentils to make a delicious chutney-like condiment (the Tamil spelling of which I cannot possibly transliterate accurately). Food that can be left out overnight is the type that beautifully, healthily ferments (dosa batter, yogurt).

Reducing food waste is not only a matter of economy, it is a matter of health. Cooking every day and building the instinct to cook only the amount we will consume - these are my grandmothers' skills that I hope to learn someday.

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Cook only the amount we can eat in one day Use up our food scraps in creative ways

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Photo of Jacob Schual-Berke

Hi Sruti, this is a great way to approach the issue, as a lot of people who may not be very motivated by environmental impacts certainly still care about their health. Does your grandmother buy fresh ingredients each day? I'm thinking that even if one only cooks for a day at a time, raw ingredients can still go bad if they're purchased in bulk. It'd be difficult for me to go grocery shopping each day in the States, so I wonder how we could address that part of the issue too!

Photo of Sruti Bharat

Hi Jacob, great comment. Many folks in Chennai, not just my mostly-disabled grandma, take advantage of the services in India. Every day the delivery boy from the local market drops a small quantity of vegetables off at her flat. (She can store vegetables with thick skins for a couple of days - such as carrots, squash). This is also true of the man who brings her a fresh coconut and breaks it in front of her to give her the coconut water, the flower woman who delivers flowers every day for her religious efforts, and the water guy who brings a big tank of water every few days. This delivery service is extremely affordable (sometimes free), mostly because it's so localized. 

I live in the US as well; maybe we could think about delivery service options for daily cooking. Maybe in urban areas, companies like Blue Apron or Amazon Prime or Google Express could make an impact on food delivery.

Photo of Cheah Hui Ting

Hi! I thought about delivery service for daily cooking too.
Especially for those who are working, have no time to buy groceries, no time to figure what to eat...
If, in a hypermarket, there is a food menu for people to choose from, and are counted as portions.
Say, curry chicken for lunch and fish and chips for dinner, 1 portion each, and they will deliver all the raw ingredients to your doorstep...

One concern will be, will there be increased packaging waste after that...
A solution might be, we provide a reusable containers for the first two times, and for future orders, whenever they order with that particular container, they get a discount, or maybe a free meal, something like that...
(almost like catering service where they have 2 sets of containers and they use them alternately)

This can be done online (online shopping) and offline (buy directly from the hypermarket).

Imagine how much we can do...
1. if it is an app, the menu can come with the recipe and steps to cook
2. we can have season specials like Chinese New Year special, Arabic night special...

Would definitely want to collaborate with someone to make this come true :D

Photo of Jacob Schual-Berke

Hi Sruti and Chea, sorry for the late reply! Blue Apron ( delivers pre-portioned fresh ingredients on a weekly basis in the US, but you're right: the packaging waste is a big issue! I think in developing markets, labor is cheap enough to make daily deliveries viable (like Sruti's grandmother has) and I think people tend to be bit more thrifty so a small deposit on reusable containers could work!