Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Are you going to eat that?

Another weekend, another pile of tupperware stuffed with leftovers, bidding their time in the fridge before their final rest in the bin.
With the world cup starting Friday, we’re set for a new gargantuan barbecue season.
This being the British summer, I am covering all bases by planning a range of actual barbecue food, as well as plan B indoors lunches.
In other words, I am setting myself up again for a fridgefull of leftovers.

As I considered the merits of my own potato salad versus WholeFoods' hummus this morning, I asked myself: how ethical can I really be if half of all that local, organic, fair trade, seasonal food is ending up in a landfill?
Does my own home food waste matter much, when measured against the tons of rubbish churned out by big food chains, restaurants and supermarkets?

Let’s see. If you enjoy illustrative examples to help you understand statistics, here are a few*:
- On average, each person in the UK throws away their own body weight in rubbish every seven weeks;
- More than a quarter of food thrown away in the UK is still in its package;
- The amount of fit-for-consumption food we throw away each year in the UK could fill 4,700 Olympic sized pools;
- Most of the world's waste is produced by the developed world, which accounts for about 5% of the world's population;
-the amount of food thrown away in Europe and America could feed the world three times over.

Not terribly ethical, is it?                                                                           *sources:
                                                                                                                                                      Food Ethics Council
So, what can we do to?

Waste reduction advisers WRAP offer plenty of practical tips and recipes to use up your leftovers.
One of my favourites is the same one sang by women’s magazines for centuries: never visit the supermarket on an empty stomach. You are more likely to buy on impulse and go for the fattening stuff.

Talking of supermarkets, they could try a bit harder too. Yes, most of them are cutting down on plastic bags – although they’re still happy to charge for them. But I don’t understand why we still buy fruit and veg in plastic wrappers and cardboard boxes that resemble armoured vehicles.

A nice initiative by Tesco (why do I keep talking about them? The place drives me mad! But they do know how to grab a headline.) last year seems to have mysteriously disappeared. A few branches of Tesco decided to ask customers to leave all their food plastic wrapping behind, to be recycled by the store. Sadly, it was a temporary measure and they decided not to continue or expand it.

And we’re told over and over again of the 3 golden Rs: to reduce, re-use, recycle.
But I feel that some of these ideas are very much out of place for too many people.
Take London, for example. How many Londoners live on their own, in minute flats with not even a picture of a garden? How are they expected to compost? And why do they have to enjoy cooking?

But switch the telly on and you will find someone insisting on taking us back to a time when life was simpler and persuading us to brew our own beer.

Now, I happen to like planting my own beans, but you can’t guilt trip people into that sort of lifestyle. That is why they chose to live in the city! To earn money in their long hours jobs; to eat convenience food and never learn to bake; to spend their free time in theatres and expensive restaurants, not down the allotment.

If you crave the feeling of living in a village, why not go live in a village? London is a very busy city of 11 million people; it is not a village.
We would not create the amount of money that we do here if the entire population were to spend their afternoons feeding their tomatoes.

Which is why it is so unrealistic to leave it up for people to re-educate themselves in order to reduce their food waste.

People will do what they can. If local authorities start collecting our food waste, a lot more of us will be happy to separate them into composting bins. And yet so many councils still fail to do so. And if I like to eat ready meals, why can’t supermarkets offer them in biodegradable packaging? Why not increase the choice of individual portions?

Sure, the waste we produce should shame us all, and will get anybody thinking.
Yes, it is shocking that people go hungry while we chuck whole packets of food away.
But would all that food be so cheap if the gigantic European and American subsidies on farming were to be removed? Would we not be fairer on the developing world by allowing them to compete in a real market with their products, rather than worrying we waste too much? Surely that would help those countries to help themselves.

Well, we write this blog from a striving ethical consumer's point of view, so I will try to stick to the consumer bits on this one.
But I can’t be less than cynical in thinking this is not a problem to be tackled by individuals alone.

As for the England v US match on Saturday, I will be watching it with non-committal cheers, so as not to offend sensitivities of any of my nomadic family members. And my friends will be eating my specially devised, ultimate waste-not-want-not world cup menu.

1 comment:

  1. Are you collecting useful links? If so, try http://www.lovefoodhatewaste.com/recipes.

    If you've got something leftover (bit of stilton, half a can of chickpeas, couple of tortilla wraps, some satsumas on their last legs, etc), then you click on it from their list and they give you a bunch of recipes so it doesn't go to waste. Hurrah!