'Stop wasting food' says Gordon

British PM Gordon Brown urges the nation to stop wasting food.

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Britons must stop wasting food in an effort to help combat rising living costs, Gordon Brown, the United Kingdom's PM, has said at the G8 Summit in Japan where world leaders discuss rising prices.

The Prime Minister said that "unnecessary" purchases were contributing to price rises, and urged people to plan meals in advance and store food properly.

The biggest problem, as I have said before elsewhere, with people today is that most simply cannot cook meals from scratch properly anymore anyway and that they also do not plan meals. This is due to the way we, nowadays, work and live, and also to the fact that children are allowed to be way too finicky as far as food and meals are concerned. If those two things could be changed then we would be a long way towards reducing food waste.

However, I have seen the way food gets wasted, like during picnics in local parks when there are several garbage bags put next to the littler bins, so the foxes can rip them open, with often still unopened pork pies, sausage rolls, etc. What beats me is why people, who obviously had the means to bring in all the food, cannot take it back home with them for use the next day, as and where possible.

A government study says the United Kingdom wastes 4m tonnes of food every year, adding £420 to a family's shopping bills.

Here I would like to ask though as to whether this data is as doctored as that as to knife injuries that are reported as “knife crimes”, if would appear, in the statistics, and includes waste from restaurants, in the way that the “knife injuries” reported by hospitals and doctors to the authorities also includes accidental injuries with knives, though that info is taken in when briefing the media as to “knife statistics” in the effort to ban knives. But I digressed.

But, the question remains as to whether the data of wasted food includes the waste from hotels and restaurants, and such like? A lot of food is wasted in such places. Every conference and every event that is catered for anywhere, whether the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, the Hotels, or the Racecourses, there is food being thrown after every meal; food that has been prepared for the delegates and attendees but that has not been eaten.

The Cabinet Office report claims that up to 40% of food harvested in developing countries can be lost before it is consumed, due to the inadequacies of processing, storage and transport. But what is the excuse in the developed world? We have refrigeration and all that and still we waste tons and tons of food.

The food policy study also says the average UK household throws away £8 of leftovers a week, yet spends 9% of its income on food.

But there is a significant gap between the poorest tenth of the population, who spend 15% and the wealthiest, who pay out 7%.

Those on lower incomes also spend proportionally more on basics such as milk, eggs and bread - foods that have seen the biggest price rises in recent months.

But it is also exactly that poorest tenth of the population, those that are on low incomes or on benefits, that are those that are, today, incapable, of cooking meals from scratch, hence the waste, as they are also, therefore, incapable of reusing any leftovers.

According to the 10-month study, British families are throwing away a total of 4.1m tonnes of perfectly good food every year, costing each about £420 annually.

The UK's Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said that what the government is trying to get across to people is that there is this complex relationship between what we buy, the amount that we buy, the amount that we waste, the impact on climate change and the impact on our health."

But, as Peter Ainsworth, the Shadow Environment Secretary, said it is government departments that should set a better example.

"The amount of untouched food that ends up in our bins is staggering but also financially and environmentally wasteful," he said.

Not only should government departments set a better example, nay they indeed must, if they want to tell households what to do.

While the government is telling households to reduce food waste it has no idea, it would appear, as to how much food it is throwing away itself. This is yet again, as so often with this British government, the Nanny government of “New Labor”, a clear case of the government saying “don't do as we do... DO as we tell you to”. Well, surprise – NOT!

Sustain, an alliance of organisations working for better food and farming, urged supermarkets to stop promoting unnecessary purchases, which they say results in a lot of food "going to waste".

Steve Webb, the Lib Dem environment spokesman, said: "The problem of food waste has been made worse by the government's failure to get tough with supermarkets. Its cosy relationship with the big chains has stalled effective action.

"Supermarkets make it harder for householders to avoid food waste, while throwing away large quantities of edible food through poor stock management.

"They refuse to stock small portions, which are essential for the growing number of one-person households, and offer too many buy-one-get-one-free deals on perishable goods."

But is this not a call for government to be nanny in another field? To me it is. It is the consumer that must ask for change. It is not going to work from above, neither with supermarkets nor with people. Change as regards to the environment and green living and ethical living can only be brought about from the bottom up; it cannot be imposed from on high.

Britain's most wasted foods are potatoes (why, I would like to know?). A whacking 359,000 tons are wasted annually. This is closely followed by bread slices with 328,000 tons, and then by 190,000 of apples.

This waste, such as that with apples, I am sure is still exasperated by farmers being ordered to destroy apples by the thousands of tons during a glut, in the same way as the law is an ass in regards to stores not being permitted to give away food to those that cannot afford it or those that are happy to take it off their hands, such as fruit and vegetables that are coming to the end of their display time.

During my childhood the costermongers selling fruit and vegetable on the markets, instead of being forced to throw fruit and vegetables that were in need to be used immediately gave those away. Oranges, apples, bananas, spuds, and whatever else was given to us kids to take home for our mothers to make meals from and such and none of us ever got ill from the stuff. In fact, I think, that amount of fruit and veg that came that way for free kept us healthy. Nowadays they are forced to throw it away. They are not allowed to even give it away.

Such food, such fruit and veg that today must be thrown away, by law, also and especially adds to the mountain of waste.

While it is unavoidable, at times, as I mentioned in a previous article, for some foods to go off – we may have forgotten that it is there or such – it should, ideally, not happen, however. But... change cannot be imposed from above. People can be and must be admonished, as they were during the years of austerity in the Second World War, and they will definitely stop wasting food as soon as it bites them in the pocketbook.

I know that during World War II is was even a criminal offense to waste food I do not think that we could or should reintroduce such measures but some good campaigns on radio, TV and the Internet might be a good idea, and posters too on the transit systems and on billboards.

© M Smith (Veshengro), July 2008