When did we become so wasteful?

For our grandparents, food was precious, packaged food a rare treat and growing your own a necessity rather than a fashionable hobby.

Nowadays food is cheap. Processed food is everywhere. We are bombarded with statistics – from the mountain of food that is thrown away to the number of people relying on food banks.

You probably don’t think twice about throwing away the bag of salad that turned into sludge before you got a chance to eat it. But recent reports suggest that around a third of all the food produced worldwide is wasted each year.

Surely we can find ways to reduce that waste, and make use of the surplus created by the food industry?

Recent reports suggest that around a third of all the food produced worldwide is wasted each year.

A global movement to reduce food waste

Food waste is an inevitable consequence of the huge choice of products that supermarkets stock. Those ranges make it difficult for them to predict line-by-line, store-by-store sales of products, all with differing storage requirements and sell-by dates. So it’s much better to find a way to make good use of that extra food, rather than destroying it.

Now governments and corporations are joining food guerrillas and charities in practical initiatives to make sure that more of the food we produce is eaten.

  • In February 2016, France became the first country to ban supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unsold food. Instead they will give food that is edible but close to its sell by date to charities and food banks.
  • In the UK, 98 food retailers, producers and local authorities have signed the Courtauld Commitment, led by charity WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) pledging to cut waste and reduce wasted resources including water, from farm to home.
  • Rather than throw away edible but blemished or odd-shaped fruit and vegetables, UK retailers Asda, Tesco and Waitrose sell them as “Wonky”, “Imperfectly Perfect” or “Less than perfect”, at lower than perfect prices.
  • In Denmark, supermarket Wefood sells only discounted surplus food that’s been rejected by supermarkets because it has damaged packaging, incorrect labels or is too close to its sell by date.
  • In the US and across Europe restaurants have opened which only serve food created from ingredients discarded by supermarkets (often because they are close to their best before date).

Hate waste? Add leftovers to your life

We can all help to reduce food waste. Working together we can make a big difference – not just to the waste we create at home but also to the way the supermarkets plan and buy.

Top tips to reduce your food waste at home

  • Remember the olden days
    Think about how many meals you can get from your weekly roast, whether it’s a chicken or a leg of lamb, rather than one meal at a time. It could save you money as well.
  • Plan your weekly meals
    Look at what you have in your store cupboards, fridge and freezer. Then only buy the extras you need to make your meals. You can find a great selection of meal planners and shopping lists on Pinterest. Once you’ve got evening meals sorted, you can even think about planning lunches and breakfasts to make the most of your weekly shop.
  • Cook from scratch when you can
    Buying ready-made dinners is quick. But you have to buy the quantities on offer – and that’s often more than you need. Cook for yourself and you can easily cook the right portion sizes for your own family. There are plenty of free websites with excellent 15-minute recipes.
  • Use up your leftovers
    Soups, risottos, curries, stir-fries are all easy and delicious ways to use leftover meat and vegetables. Add them to your weekly meal plan as a way to check what you’ve got and use it before it goes off.
  • Don’t stick rigidly to best before dates
    Use your eyes and nose to assess if food is still edible. When everyone bought from butchers, bakers and greengrocers there were no sell-by dates, just good sense about what smells, looks or feels right.
  • Say Freeze
    Frozen food is just as nutritious as fresh. Choose frozen vegetables for easy portion control. And use your freezer to keep food that’s about to be thrown away. Stale bread becomes breadcrumbs, frozen over-ripe bananas and soft fruit go into smoothies and puddings. Freeze leftover meat to add to stews and cooked veg to whizz up into speedy soups. Just remember to label everything to avoid surprises when you defrost.

Reducing waste when you’re shopping and eating out

  • Choose specialist counters in supermarkets – or local shops and markets
    Buy your meat, fish, bakery and fruit and vegetables by weight or quantity when you can. You’ll save money by getting the exact amount you need rather than pre-packed and pre-decided amounts (you’ll reduce the amount of wasted packaging too).
  • Support waste-reducers
    Take your shopping basket to retailers, schemes and restaurants who are actively trying to reduce waste, for example by donating excess food. If more of us show we think this is the right way to manage a business, then more businesses will work this way.
  • Say “No Thank You”
    When you’re eating out don’t order that extra side dish the waiter is pushing unless you’re sure you’ll eat it. Food that’s left from restaurant meals is much harder to use elsewhere, so anything you don’t eat is almost certain to be simply thrown away.
  • Don’t be tempted by “Buy One Get One Half Price”
    All those “Buy more and save” deals are a great way to increase the food you throw away unless you’re sure you’ll eat the extra within its use by date. Think about dropping another purchase to compensate.

And finally. . .

  • Only buy bagged salad if you plan to eat it in the next couple of days – it’s only good for your health if you actually eat it!