Life, Simply Led

Waste Not Want Not – The High Price of Food Waste

Today’s headlines make for shocking reading. According to a new report from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers between 30 and 50% of food produced in the world never reaches a human stomach. This makes for difficult reading at a time when thousands of people in the UK are turning to food banks and where millions of people in developing countries are struggling to survive and feed their families.

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About 4 billion metric tonnes of food is produced per year and 1.2 – 2 billion tonnes is going to waste due to poor harvesting, storage and transportation at source as well as market and consumer waste. Add to this the wasted water, fertiliser and time spent growing food, the wasted resources transporting and storing it and you end up with a pretty disgusting picture of greed in the face of others poverty.

Supermarkets push for perfect produce to supply increasingly fussy consumers and make impossible demands on producers with the result that a huge amount of produce is left to rot  because it is the wrong shape, size or colour. Buy one get one free offers mean many customers buy produce they will never use and ridiculously conservative sell by dates encourage consumers to throw away perfectly edible produce.

The greed of supermarkets and many consumers in the developed world inflates food prices on a global scale driving up prices for staples in the developing world as well as pushing prices beyond the purses of many in our own countries.The fact that much of that perfect food we demand is simply being thrown away is, frankly, criminal.

So, What Can We Do As Consumers To Reduce Food Waste?

  • We can buy our food direct from the farm at farm shops and farmers’ markets and accept that vegetables are wibbly and wonky.
  • We can plan ahead and buy only what we need
  • We can shop with a friend so we don’t miss out on bargains (buy one get one free offers work well if you share them not so much if you just chuck away that extra bag of oranges)
  • We can look at how we store food (fruit may look pretty in the fruit bowl but it lasts longer in the fridge – not bananas though), the freezer is our friend
  • We can measure out ingredients so that we don’t overcook (use this portion planner from Love Food Hate Waste to help)
  • We can keep the tins, packets and bottles which need using first at the front of our cupboards where they can be seen and used rather than at the back where they are forgotten
  • We can pickle and preserve in times of harvest, eat seasonally and prepare food from scratch using up all those bits and bobs.

There needs to be sea change in the way the world’s food is produced. The UN predicts that there could be an extra 3 billion mouths to feed by the end of this century and one of the key issues facing human kind is how to feed everyone in a world of finite resources. Obviously, looking at today’s figures, one of the things we need to do is stop wasting food and start producing it sustainably.

As usual in the face of such enormous figures and a problem on such a global scale it is much easier to sit back and wash your hands of it or stick your head in the sand BUT we are the problem and change has to begin with us.

A few basic changes in the way we shop and cook are easy to implement and have the added advantage of saving us money.

Top Ten Tips to Reduce Food Waste

  1. Meal plan for the week, make a shopping list and stick to it.
  2. Freeze leftovers for use on another day. Stale bread makes excellent breadcrumbs to use as crispy coatings, to pad out a lentil loaf or as a crumble topping on a savoury dish. Grate left over cheese and freeze it ready for instant use in sauces and toppings. Make stock with leftover limp vegetables and freeze.
  3. Measure portions to avoid over cooking, don’t over face children with too much food and then be surprised when they don’t eat it.
  4. Buy locally, direct from producers where possible
  5. Go shopping with a friend if you do go to the supermarket and share BOGOF offers
  6. Encourage supermarkets to keep selling proper veg by buying the bags of ‘All shapes, all sizes’ fruits and vegetables which are gradually appearing
  7. Ignore sell by dates and use use by dates, your eyes and your nose to tell you whether something can be eaten
  8. Grow some of your own, fresh herbs snipped from a windowbox, lettuces and salad leaves straight from the ground last longer than well travelled greenery in plastic bags (and they taste better too!)
  9. Cook from scratch where possible, a good homemade vegetable soup using up leftovers or my ‘Bottom of the Fridge’ baked bean curry is hard to beat and so easy to make!
  10. Teach your children how to cook, how to meal plan and how to budget so that the next generation is not as wasteful as the last.

What would be your top tip for reducing the amount of food which is thrown away?

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31 Comments

  1. Meal planning is key. Thinking of meals that use up everything. Like that half tub of creme fraiche or cream. Sticking to the meal plan, even if you don’t really fancy it and growing your own makes you think seasonally. Multi buy savings often don’t offer a good saving. Look at the prices and sometimes it’s only 20p.

    • You’re right! I’ve trained my older ones (who are better at maths than me) to work out which is the best bargain and whether or not it is actually worth buying that ‘special offer’ at all. Very handy!

  2. This is such a distressing statistic. One of my new year resolutions is to halve my food bill. I’ve already filled the freezer with cooked food – just have to remember to defrost something everyday. All leftover vegetables get made into soups or pasta sauces at the end of the week.

    • Brilliant! It’s not too difficult once you get into the habit of it is it? We have to make a noise as consumers, hold the government to account and demand that supermarkets change their practice because this really is an absolute disgrace!

  3. Well… I find it less wasteful not to meal plan but to buy veggie/fruit boxes and always have essential storecupboard ingredients so that a little leftover ‘something’ can be turned into a meal to feed several. Learning to cook with what you have rather than buying what you ‘need’ for recipes. I find the box schemes make me more flexible with cooking and flexibility means less waste.

    • I think you are absolutely right, box schemes are brilliant. I’ve let mine lapse at the moment but I’ll be back there soon like a faithful puppy. The only problem with the box scheme can be the repetitiveness during late winter before the new spring crops come in, I love box schemes which recognise this and provide interesting recipe cards to keep you going!

  4. I so agree. We like to grow our own vegetables and herbs, and not only does it reduce waste, is easier on the budget, but nothing really beats the taste of food picked fresh immediately before cooking/eating it.

    • It’s just the best thing isn’t it? I remember the wonder on my older children’s faces when I pulled the longest ever parsnip out of the ground and the day they tasted the first sweet corn straight from plot to pan!

  5. I was brought up not to waste a mouthful, and I still feel really guilty if I do. I hardly ever throw away food – honestly! I have a food recycling bin, which has made me realise that the scraps come to more than I would have guessed, but it’s still not much – and quite a bit of that is tea bags, banana skins, etc.

    But one of my issues is that I don’t feel it’s right to teach my children that they must eat up everything that’s on their plate, as we were taught. The problem facing the next generation is obesity, and so, although it goes terribly against the grain, I teach my children that it’s ok to leave something on their plate. (I find it really hard to let them, and also to resist finishing off their leftovers, because it was so deeply ingrained in me that wasting food was so wrong.) What I do emphasise, though, is that when they serve themselves, they must take only what they want, and then come back for seconds if they want more.

    • I agree, force feeding children is not the way to go and I think most of us have been guilty of picking off their plates when we don’t really need to! I do think it’s important to educate our children as we go along rather than instilling guilt so that eating sensibly and an awareness of the impact we each make on this earth becomes just a part of life. I think coming back for seconds rather than overloading your plate the first time is also a really good idea; food in the pan can be reused, it can’t if it’s been pushed around a plate and fiddled with for half an hour or more!

  6. Some households waste large amounts of food, yes, and we should aim to reduce personal food waste …. but the worst culprits are the supermarkets. Until they start to tackle their own waste we’re unlikely to see those numbers dropping.

    I saw first hand how bad the waste problem is when I started food skipping (taking food thrown away by the supermarkets), I was gobsmacked at these huge skips overflowing with food – most of it still perfectly edible.

    To put it into perspective, on one evening I went through 5 skips full to the brim with food. One of those skips was filled entirely with bread, another with potatoes and apples and other fruits and veg! We collected enough food for 3 households (we skip in groups), with another 5 or 6 bags to be distributed to the local homeless.

    I’ve been skipping for more than 3 years now and I don’t intend to stop until the supermarkets get off their fat corporate behinds and do something about the amount of food they throw away. Given that there are MILLIONS of people in the UK that cannot afford to eat properly, it is quite frankly disgusting that it’s taken this long for people to notice and/or care.

    • I remember reading about this a while back. It is shocking. As I recall, one of the problems was that they were not allowed (health and safety of some kind?) to donate the food to food banks or homeless shelters and were obliged to throw it out. I wonder if this is still the case? If so, perhaps a petition or campaign of some kind to change this would be good?

      • That’s correct, we don’t have the right kind of laws here to protect supermarkets from lawsuits, should any food they donate make someone ill.
        It’s a bit of a shoddy excuse though, if supermarkets REALLY wanted to donate their food waste they’d surely campaign for this change in the law themselves. With their deep pockets and high-up connections I’m sure they wouldn’t have too much of a problem ;)

        And of course, the best option would be for supermarkets not to have such high levels of waste in the first place, with better planning when it comes to the quantities in which they’re buying stock.

        • Yes, it’s true and it’s absolutely infuriating! Kerry McCarthy MP is committed to drive change through parliament and is well worth a follow as is the WI and of course the lovely Karen at The Rubbish Diet

    • I agree, this has been in the news for a VERY long time but the figure released today really did bring me up short – 50% is staggering.
      It really is up to government and the supermarkets to make fundamental change but they won’t do that unless it will hurt them not to, they don’t have their eye on the future, it’s votes and profits which drive them. That’s why we have to make a stand.
      Food skipping should be front page news, have you videoed and youtubed your forays?

  7. A shocking report, though I am not as surprised as I would like to be. I think this is something that is going to need to be discussed in schools a lot for it to start changing (though it is already changing a bit, with the ‘market produce’ in supermarkets).

    We used to be awful wasters. We would fill our huge American-style fridge with fruit and veg and then eat ready meals almost every day and end up throwing out most of the fresh produce as it had gone off. But we have improved immensely since having children, and are improving again in our efforts to economise.

    For children not eating food, we try as often as possible to have them serve themselves from multiple dishes and take a little at first and more if they eat all of that. (Eleanor, who is only 3, still has a tendency to take far too much, though!)

    We don’t do exact meal planning but buy two weeks’ food to encompass certain meals and to keep a few free choices in there. Once we’re getting near the end of the two weeks, any veg that’s still in the box gets made into veg soup – delicious whatever it is – and we’ll freeze some if necessary.

    We are also fortunate (in some ways) to have a dog who will finish off many leftovers, though it would still be better not to have them in the first place.

    I think teaching more cooking from scratch and meal-planning, as well as the economics of things like BOGOF (we have realised that these offers are almost always on the big brands and frequently the own-brand product is still cheaper than the offer) in schools (and, of course, to our own children) will be essential, I think.

    • Education is absolutely essential, you are right, I do think that cooking and household management should be an important part of the curriculum. How can children look after themselves when so many of them are being brought up by people who were never taught to cook or budget? My children have tickled cooking at school as part of technology *confused face* but baking, nice as it is, is not what they need to learn! Learning to cook healthy family meals from scratch using seasonal produce would set them up for life. Include in there an awareness of the consequences of food waste both for other people and for their own pockets and we might begin to make a difference.

  8. Great post. It is particularly shocking about all the food which is rejected before consumers even get the choice to buy it when there are so many people starving abroad and even in this country.
    I know we could do so much more to reduce food waste, but I do try! I have been known to ignore BOGOFs when I know I won’t eat them. The shop assistants look at you gone out when you say ‘I’m not taking it because I don’t want it’. Wasn’t there a rumour they were going to give out vouchers so you could claim your free one next time? That never happened.

    • Hi Sarah, thanks for commenting! I’ve had that incredulous look when I’ve turned down ‘offers’ too! The idea that you are getting something for nothing has become very ingrained in consumers’ minds I think and it has changed the way we shop for the worse. I hadn’t heard that rumour but it doesn’t surprise me that it has since vanished!

  9. You are so right. And this is something I am going to link up later this month when I get my teeth sunk into a project that will be along similar lines.

    BOGOFs are a pain. We often don’t want the second one, we won’t eat it. But we take it anyway and then throw it away. I want the first one half price please!

    • Absolutely! It’s as if they are doing us a favour but they really aren’t!

    • Give all yrou BOGOFs to the food bank Mummy Barrow, that is what I use mine for. Mich x

  10. Well said! I do most of the above, but where I live, farm shops/farmers’ markets are a lovely idea, but not economical.

    • I’m sure you do loads lovely, I do realise markets and farm shops aren’t accessible to all xxx

  11. I did a few linkys last year regarding LoveFoodHateWaste and think it’s time for it make a reappearance after this weeks news xxx

    • I think it is, count me in x

  12. Fab post and a subject I was just discussing with my Mum this morning. We all tend to waste so much food and Buy One Get One Free’s have a lot to answer for. I actually ignored all these crazy, wasteful offers last week in the supermarket and saved money and reduced waste massively.

  13. Fantastic post Chris, it’s an outrageous amount of waste. With 12% of the world’s population currently hungry, now is the time to address the issue of food insecurity – both abroad and here in our own backyard.

  14. Thank you Chris for an excellent post, these newest stats are even more shocking and remind me I need to make mroe time for cooking up all the odds and ends. Mich x

  15. Two questions: Chris do you do all the things on your list? And 2ndly what is so bad about trying to make children eat what’s on their plate (especially if they only start with a small portion and there’s no cruelty involved – eg, massive piece of beetroot which they hate?). That said my kids don’t eat crusts, it may drive me mad but the combination of wobbly teeth & willing dog/hens and compost bin makes it OK. And of course crusts can soon be turned into bread crumbs/veggie sausages/bread and butter pudding etc. Nicola

    • Thanks for your comment Nicola. Yes, I do all the things on my list as often as I can, I’m not religious about it, I live in the real world with my four children not in fantasy land. I don’t think I said it was bad to make children eat what is on their plate, I did say don’t over face them with a huge quantity – I try to allow for the different sizes of appetite in our household. I also clearly remember parents of small children getting very stressed over meal times and I have found that offering children a little less and allowing them to ask for seconds helps reduce that stress.

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