• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Why our wasteful ways have to change

A SOCIAL worker, her resilience built over 20 years in the field, told me of being reduced to tears by seeing a woman - who had not eaten or been able to feed her children for four days due to a benefits mix-up over a Bank Holiday weekend - rip the lid from a tin of beans and scoop them out cold with her fingers.

"I saw the woman pick up and handle each tin we had and I could not work out what she was doing until I realised she was looking for one with a ring pull.

"I have lived all of my life in Maryhill and am disgusted there are people in my community who are reduced to that state."

So there you have one end of the food extreme - a mother and her two children nigh-on scavenging for a meal in Scotland's largest city.

And on the other end of the see-saw you have the news households are throwing away a million tons of untouched food each year, whipping it from fridge to bin without so much as a sniff or a lick.

According to Westminster's advisory body, the Waste And Resources Action Programme, one-quarter of our unavoidable food waste is dumped. So, not peelings, avocado stones or apple cores (you could quibble over apple cores but no one can be expected to make something hearty from an avocado stone) but food that could have been eaten, wasted.

Avoidable household food waste has been reduced by 21 per cent since 2007, but it is not ideal, is it, to be scrapping bags of potatoes or cartons of milk when families up the road are desperate?

Not to mention that nearly two-thirds of the UK population is overweight or obese. We are not enjoying a very balanced relationship with our food, it would seem.

The Waste And Resources Action Programme cites a ridged adherence to "Use By" dates. Supermarkets take some of the fall too: they con us into over-purchasing. Corporate social responsibility might be one thing, but it is another when it is denying you sales.

An educated public, which knows where food comes from, will know how to judge for themselves when a foodstuff is off.

People who know nothing about food are those who need Use By dates but Use By dates mean no need to learn: there you have a vicious cycle.

Did you know milk smells bad before it will do you any harm? Bad bits can be cut from fruit and vegetables. It used to horrify me as a child when my mother would cut the bruises from apples and tell me to be grateful. She was a toddler in the last days of rationing and I suppose that experience stays with you. It has been handed down to me and now every limp carrot that goes in the bin - rather than used for stock - gives me gross pangs of guilt.

But I imagine most people are the same. The Government's advisers may wag their collective finger at the errant public who know not what they do in the kitchen, but I can't believe folk chuck out crinkling tomatoes or blackening mushrooms without a flick of regret.

The problem with tackling food waste is that its causes are so many and varied. Apparently single people throw out 40 per cent more than families. No wonder. Supermarkets are geared to the collective; food is cheaper the more you buy.

Most people who say they are too busy to plan are not too busy, they are too lazy. And those who are meticulously organised with their food shops can have the best timed rhythms easily knocked off beat by the pulse of life.

Shy of rationing, the best move is education and ignoring Use By dates while using common sense. We are collectively mad when it comes to food: over-stuffed or malnourished or guilty about creating waste. It is as much a moral issue as a political issue.

Time to start listening to our brains, not just our guts.

Contextual targeting label: 
Food and drink

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

243645