Food waste is a growing problem and is part of the larger problem of global hunger, or food insecurity as it’s so often referred to these days. But we can all do something to tackle the global problem whilst at the same time saving ourselves significant money.
Famine and food waste
Global hunger has been a pet cause amongst the socially conscious for decades. Those who are old enough will remember the craze begun in the mid-1980s by Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas? (Feed the World)” and U.S.A. for Africa’s “We Are the World”, originally organised to raise money to fight famine and poverty in Ethiopia and other parts of Africa. The songs sold millions of copies; “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” became a record breaking bestseller in the UK and that record remained unbroken for years. The musical efforts did in fact raise awareness of world hunger, inspiring dozens of similar efforts – and charities – in the decades that followed. Yet these projects have been criticised for missing the mark on the true causes of hunger and being, in the end, little more than vehicles for celebrity self-aggrandisement.
But where does that leave us today, and how can we as individuals be at least a small part of the solution rather than a part of the problem? We can help by reducing food waste. The bad news, which has been reported numerous times over the past couple of years, is that Europe wastes tonnes of food every year and the UK unfortunately is at the top of the EU food waste chart. Estimates have varied but one of the latest reports, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, says that Europe wastes about 22 million tonnes of food, with Britain at the top of the heap. Veggies, fruits and cereals account for the bulk of the food waste, due largely to their shorter shelf life. But many tonnes of meat also go to waste, creating a greater impact on water and nitrogen resources. And the costs of all food waste to the environment, economy and society are enormous.
Solutions: we’re all in this together
Some countries are tackling the food waste problem with legislation. For instance, France’s parliament recently passed a law banning supermarkets from destroying unsold food. Instead they will have to give it to charities or to put it to other uses such as animal feed.
There are measures that we as individuals can take as well, and here’s where that moneysaving angle comes in for us. Reversing wasteful habits can be difficult but is truly worth the effort and can result in surprising savings. A few tips:
1. Don’t get taken in by supermarket “Buy One Get One Free” promos or other deals. Most people can’t resist a bargain, or something that appears to be one (stores have clever ways of making it seem like a bargain whether it is or not). It truly is not a bargain if it’s simply going to go to waste. But impulse can get the better of all of us, so if you do get taken in by a big sale and subsequently decide you aren’t going to eat that mega box of cereal or those ten cans of store-brand tomato soup, at least donate them to a food charity. Only donate nonperishables and make sure they are reasonably within their sell-by date (although sell-by dates are only a general guide and some foods are good for quite a while beyond the date on the package). And one more tip, which you’ve probably hard before: never go food shopping when you’re hungry.
2. Become a fan of leftovers. Some people turn their noses up at leftovers, but you shouldn’t. Many home-cooked meals and other prepared food actually taste better the next day. If you don’t want it the next day, freeze it and have it as a “ready meal” for some time in the near future. You should even learn to cook with leftovers in mind; you can get a lot of meals from a single pork loin or a hearty roasting hen. Learning how to be creative with leftovers is one of the best things you can do for you and your family.
3. Closely monitor all of the food in your refrigerator, freezer and pantry. On a regular basis check the condition of all perishable items in your fridge, as well as the sell-by dates on packaged items in the fridge, freezer and your pantry. If you’re not going to eat something right away and it is the type of item that freezes well, move it from the fridge to the freezer, but keep an inventory of all items in your freezer to ensure you don’t keep them there too long. Freezer-burnt food tastes awful and you’ll probably just end up throwing it out. On the other hand don’t hesitate to throw out food that is spoilt or even seems a bit dodgy. You can’t help save the world if you succumb to food poisoning.
Be a frugal shopper, a creative cook, and a mindful steward of your food supplies, and you might even reach a point where you don’t have to throw any food out, ever. It’s a good goal to strive for. Fighting food waste isn’t the only answer to world hunger but it is something you should do for yourself and for your family – and yes, for the world. After all, we are the world.
For more information: WRAP.org.uk is an excellent resource for information about food waste reduction and other steps towards a sustainable future.