...When you peel a tattie – and throw away the skin?
So ran the first two lines of a weird poem I knew as a kid but have forgotten the rest.
No matter, according to the man I saw on the TV news today, 50 per cent of all food produced for human consumption gets wasted during its rather fragmented journey from farm to table.
In general terms I’m not sure the wastage figure quoted is anywhere near the halfway mark; it might well be the case that subtracting the amount of food discarded for good reason would bring the total down to something more credible.
One of the primary reasons quoted for food waste is an overly strict adherence to expiry dates for all categories of food. It is simple common sense to ensure food ingredients are in good shape before we eat them, and the sell-by/use-by dating system works well considering that once through the checkout or off the butcher`s scales, control of food is in the (hopefully clean) hands of the consumer who will operate a default option of slinging out anything showing an imminent or actual expiry date. In many cases such dates err greatly on the side of caution, and while I would hesitate to consume expired chicken, prawns or other perishables, I rely on my own examination and judgement for much of the rest.
Anyone with reasonable vision and practical experience of the odours given off by food no longer fresh can employ a degree of discretion when deciding their menu for the day.
Who is the main culprit in UK food waste? Some might say the retailers must shoulder the larger portion of responsibility with their excessive food deals designed to shift larger amounts to people who have no need for ‘buy one – get one free’, only to see the freebie (oh yeah?) go to the bucket after a few days in the fridge. Packaging plays a part with many items, particularly all that fruit and veg sweating in plastic wrappings.
Here’s an example, encasing apples in a plastic wrap ignores the fact that nature has already taken care of protection by equipping them with skins, which are a masterpiece of packaging that can be safely disposed of by simply eating it. Seeemples!
In fairness to the guys in the food retail trade, there is an aspect of food where consumers can make a direct attack on general waste. I speak from personal experience when I say a major reason for some food discard is that all too often our eyes are bigger than our bellies.
I hail from a family of big eaters where it was considered appropriate to put away a large plateful at every meal, and a sin to leave anything.
In military times the contrast between the miserable ration doled out by the British Army cooks and the lavish meals supplied in a US Army cookhouse was stark. The US rules were along the lines of “take what you can eat – eat what you take”. My Mum would have approved. I could and should get by on much less than I eat, and I have to tell you that in itself it is but a fraction of my consumption in copping days.
In defence of the supermarkets and their efforts to bring us good nosh, it is obvious we must concede there will always be something left over that is unsuitable for us picky humans to consume.
In my childhood days our local farmer kept a range of livestock, and his pride and joy was a herd of huge piggies that bred like wildfire and had appetites worthy of witness at feeding time. The guffies diet was supplemented by pigswill from various sources, but mainly anything from the farm deemed surplus to requirements. It was boiled up in huge tubs and the pong was something you either got to tolerate or held your beak. Never mind the odour, the porcine diners loved it and left not a trace in their troughs, and if that sounds a little like school dinners let me tell you the residue from those very examples of culinary excellence was also collected every few days to go in the boiler tubs.
This prompts me to repeat the question – when does food change from being part of the human diet to unnecessary waste? Is it all waste? How much do we recycle to use in other endeavours?
Food waste can be recycled, we all know that, but to date the categories of food waste suitable for recycling are not extensive, leaving a remainder that has to be eliminated in some way.
Better maybe to seek ways to process the lot in a single process, producing methane gas, biofuel and fertiliser. Apart from the methane gas angle, (much too risky for a home project!) at Pilgrim HQ we recycle virtually all food waste using composters and an extremely effective wormery.
I have great affection for my “worrums” who do a great job, getting rid of what little food we discard and supplying a very effective soil additive to boot.
Maybe discarded food becomes waste at the point when nothing is done to recover its value and it just goes into a hole in the ground or an incinerator.
We must urgently look for ways to get the most from our food materials and if that means revising many of the dumb rules dreamed up by faceless bureaucrats, so be it.
My next day dream will see all the discarded apples in the UK made into a powerful cider to be given copiously free to everyone admitting to concerns about the environment.
It won’t change anything, but it might just stop them from worrying.