Now the good news: we waste food
According to the UK Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), household food waste is falling but ‘UK households are still throwing away 4.2million tonnes of household food and drink annually; the equivalent of six meals every week for the average UK household’. This represents a 21 per cent decline since 2007, says WRAP.
Spending money on food, only to throw it away, may be a waste of money. But it is also an indication of something good: that we are wealthy enough to be able to afford the convenience of changing our minds about what we are going to eat. We can afford to turn our noses up at food that looks like it might be on the verge of going off. We can afford to have eyes that are bigger than our bellies and serve up too much, only for the excess to end up in the bin.
That’s a much better situation to be in than to have to watch every penny, to reuse every leftover, to be stuck with a strict list of things we have lined up to eat for the week with no room for simply ‘being in the mood’ for something else.
It’s no accident that food waste is falling, either. It might be due to the titanic efforts of WRAP to educate us about the difference between ‘sell by’ dates and ‘use by’ dates, or teaching families to plan their weekly food better. But, to be honest, I doubt it. It’s more likely to be due to the fact that we’ve been going through economic recession for the past few years. People haven’t got the luxury to waste food to the same extent. That’s hardly cause for celebration.
Unless, of course, you’re an organisation called the Waste and Resources Action Programme. Because frankly, you don’t give a toss about why people are wasting less. You are much more concerned with stuff – in this case, food matter – than people. Never mind the scrimping and scraping – think of the smaller carbon footprint!
The really perverse thing is that if you really wanted to do something about food waste, you wouldn’t be bothering with the relatively small amount produced by consumers in the West. You would be worried about the enormous losses between field and fork (or chopstick) in the developing world. The answer to that is the kind of broad economic development that would include creating the means to store and transport food safely from the farmer to the consumer. All this banging on about wasteful consumers in the UK – now that’s something that really is past it’s sell-by date.
Rob Lyons is associate editor at spiked.