South Korean women can teach us how to be more sustainable in the kitchen

Pakistan wastes a colossal amount of food but it isn't difficult to recycle and compost at home.
Updated 17 Jun, 2023

I have been Seoul-searching the South Korean culture through its homemakers. These women, documenting their daily lives on YouTube, communicate a great deal through silence. Tacitly, they go about their day, cleaning, cooking and over a cup of Omija tea or the laborious process of kimchi making, they share their thoughts on home, family, food (through subtitles) and give you a glimpse inside the Oriental way of life.

Hamimommy, a mom with over two million subscribers, takes us through a sensory experience of domesticity. Her videos barely show her face, yet reveal an intimate look inside her home through moments where she reads a book to her daughter, Hami, in bed.

While in her kitchen, Hamimommy meticulously covers a leftover piece of cabbage with paper towel so it doesn’t change colour and lasts longer. She then cuts the white parts of green onion and leaves them aside to freeze and to use in broths in the future. Nothing edible ever goes in the trash and is either frozen or refrigerated for later use. As Hamimommy chops mushrooms, radishes and carrots for a stir fry, she uses the scraps to make hot vegetable tea.

 Hamimommy uses vegetable scraps after making stir fry to make vegetable tea
Hamimommy uses vegetable scraps after making stir fry to make vegetable tea

This meticulous care and frugality is perhaps an extension of South Korea as a society. The country is also one of the world leaders for recycling, with its recycling and composting rate at 60 per cent, which the World Bank says is one of the highest in the world. Its waste management system, known as jongnyangje, separates food, garbage and recyclables into colour-coded bags.

In 2013, South Korea introduced compulsory food waste recycling. According to a World Economic Forum report, the country put a cost of about $6 a month on biodegradable bags for an average four-person family, so you essentially pay a tax for throwing away food. This is partly how they generate money to execute the campaign and encourage home composting.

Honeyjubu, another South Korean vlogger with over two million subscribers, settles in her kitchen to prepare bulgogi sauce. She then fills a black stone pot with water and rice. Her family often eats in a biodegradable plate made of wheat. The kitchen towels that are used to cover food are not discarded but used for cleaning the counters.

 Honeyjubu uses leftover rice water to water her plants
Honeyjubu uses leftover rice water to water her plants

I watch her, perplexed as she collects eggshells of cooked eggs. What could Honeyjubu possibly do with those? She saunters towards the microwave, dries the eggshells in it and then grinds them in the blender, cleaning the blades in the process. But it doesn’t end here — she gathers the powdered eggshells, strolls towards her little garden and uses the powder as a natural fertiliser, enlightening us about their anti-pest properties. Ever dumped used cooking oil in the sink? Well, not Honeyjubu. She recycles waste cooking oil by making kitchen soap.

According to a recent report by the Ministry of National Food Security and Research, Pakistan wastes 26 per cent of its food production yearly. The report revealed astonishing figures of 19.6 million tonnes of food that is wasted. With an increasing population, rising inflation, the availability of food is a miracle for some.

Sometimes, a leftover sandwich finds its way to the back of a shelf and we simply forget about it. Our house-help is not educated or trained enough to comprehend the perils of not storing food properly to increase shelf life. I do feel that small steps beginning from our home kitchens may seem cumbersome but can yield long-term results owing to our combined efforts to reduce food waste.

As someone who has been cooking regularly for her family for years now, here are some of the things I try to implement and can suggest.

How to reduce food waste at home

Alter the way you shop. Buy groceries according to the meals that will be cooked at home within a few days. You may end up eating out or ordering in, so avoid bulk buying of fresh vegetables etc.

Clean and store vegetables as soon as you get home. Proper cleaning, trimming and storing of food in air tight containers/bags is likely to help them last longer. Green onion, fresh cilantro and other herbs can last upto a week if you keep them wrapped in paper towel inside a box, as that absorbs moisture.

Not everything expired is rotten, and not everything not expired is safe to eat! Use your judgement by taking a whiff and checking for mould.

Have leftover rice or roti? Feed it to the birds. If you keep one bowl for this purpose out in your garden or leave some food in the grass, you’d be surprised how quickly it vanishes.

Family members are more likely to eat fruit if it’s already washed, peeled and cut. A melon is likely to stay untouched for days if it’s uncut, so encourage snacking on fruit by making it bite ready.

Some produce, such as potatoes, eggplant, onions, and garlic, should be stored in a cool, dry, dark, place with ventilation.

The lower shelves are the coldest part of the fridge so you will want to store meat, poultry and seafood there.

Don’t throw away stale bread. Instead, use it to make croutons. You can also keep freezing the corners of bread till you have enough for homemade breadcrumbs.

If you have a lot of peeled garlic but are leaving the city for a week, then mince it and freeze it in silicon moulds.

If fruit you brought home like peaches or cherries is too sour to eat, make jam out of it.

Don’t leave perishable food at room temperature for more than two hours.

Mould forms easily on cheese. Cling wrap pieces individually and keep it frozen.

If your toddler doesn’t eat the peel of an apple, collect them for composting.


Like many other things in life, the desire for change in your kitchen and your outlook towards food and waste will also come from mindfulness. Being aware and conscious of the carbon footprint that wasted food will leave every time you don’t muster the energy to store food for later use is more likely to compel you to take measures you wouldn’t have otherwise.

If you’re boiling peas and the same water can be used to boil eggs right after, you will need presence of mind to not spill the water in the sink, as we often do by default, and to instead pour it into a bowl and refill it for the eggs. If you see your surrounding with a nurturing lens, you will be eager to start with your own kitchen. Take baby steps for leaps of change.