On Monday evening I was lucky enough to attend the Evening Standard Food for London forum which was being held at Kings College London. It brought together campaigners, charities, entrepreneurs, a supermarket boss and restauranteurs in a bid to address the conundrum of food waste and food poverty.
We currently throw away 7 million tonnes of food and drink from our homes per year, which is only half of the total food wasted in the UK! (1) At the same time many families are struggling to put food on the table and, as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, one of the panellists, said, there is something we can all do about it.
We have become accustomed to having a huge amount of choice available all the time and there is no way supermarkets can provide the variety of food without wasting an awful lot of it as well. Many supermarkets try to never have empty shelves, but have you ever asked yourself where all of that food goes at the end of the day?
It was also suggested that we don’t tend to value food very highly any more. The average family in the UK spends £57 a week on food (2) – many people may spend more than that on their mobile phones! Food has become so readily available and such a commodity that we don’t worry about throwing it away if we don’t fancy it.
To tackle this problem, we can all make small changes to our habits which will add up to help reduce the food wasted at home. As customers we influence what the supermarkets supply so if we try and buy seasonal produce the supermarkets will focus on supplying more of that and hopefully waste less food as they are not trying to offer so much all the time.
We can also use tips and tricks, such as those on Sainsbury’s website to help our food last longer (like as keeping bananas away from other fruit to stop them ripening too quickly).
Maybe also try putting less on your plate – I know my eyes are often bigger than my stomach, so now if I have made too much I put some in the fridge before I eat, then if I’m still hungry I can finish it. If not, it’s there for me to use for lunch or dinner the next day.
In restaurants we could also ask to take away the food we couldn’t quite manage to finish so that we can keep it cold to use the next day. This works well with salads and pastas but remember to be careful of food safety – if it has been out for quite a while (especially meat and fish), it may not be safe to keep it for the next day. (Here are some good tips on food safety – https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/index.html)
We can also support some of the wonderful charities and start-up companies that are helping to make surplus food available for use by other people.
The Felix Project is the main charity supported by the Evening Standard campaign. They collect surplus food from shops and restaurants around London and take it to charities which make it into hot meals for those in need at no extra cost.
The Olio app enables surplus food to be shared, so you could use it to give away surplus veg from your garden, or you could also pick up a good last minute bargain on some food that somebody else has put on the app.
The take home message of the event was; ‘Small is beautiful’. We need to start by addressing food waste in our own homes and local areas. Maybe also support any local charities that may be trying to tackle food waste and poverty. We all deserve to have access to good food, so if you have a little bit extra why not help someone else out with it instead of throwing it away?