Fantasy Food Waste – a game for all the family…

UK families waste £270 a year on discarded food, say the Guardian,** cutting and pasting a press release (which it really should have opened up to comments, because generalisations, like this, are usually bollocks**).

**But see the Telegraph, below for a seriously off-the-wall figure!

By the way, did you know we had a Waste minister, Lord Taylor of Holbeach? Neither did I, and it’ll be a cold day in hell before I’ll be lectured on waste of any kind by a Tory peer, no matter how apparently humble his antecedents.

This week I’ve “wasted” half a pan of pea soup that turned out – though I tasted the stock first – to be absurdly salty. About a quarter of an Allinson’s wholemeal loaf was likewise consigned to oblivion, because 3 days after opening it was covered – and I do mean covered, the bread was barely visible – in mould. The value of the former was about 15p – the stock was free, from cooking a gammon joint, the only cost about 150g of split peas (a similar amount had been eaten). The bread, say, 35p.

Total waste this week, then, 50p, and this has been a pretty average week (my biggest waste is bread, even when I make my own, as there’s a limit to how much one person can eat (the most economical version of bread is rolls – for some reason they are less prone to mould, and a 6-pack will go in 3 – 4 days).

So that’s £26 a year. Let’s be generous, and scale that up to £35, because the “research” says we always underestimate (so not only are we so stupid we over-buy, we don’t know the value of anything either – hmm… interesting mindset these people have). That’s a bloody long way from £270 – a family of 5, large, these days, would have to waste £15 more per capita than my inflated amount per year.

Are people really so dumb that they get suckered by twofers into buying more than they actually need, then chuck a lot of it away, which is the claim being made?  Even I, with my cynically jaundiced view of the great British public, find that hard to credit.

I’m up for a bargain as much as anyone else – one reason I currently shop online at Tesco, rather than my habitual Sainsbury’s (plus Tesco don’t rip me off by charging £6.75 for delivery, like Sainsbury’s do if I spend less than £40**) – but I’m not so dumb as to buy stuff I can’t eat, or freeze, just to save a few coppers on an item. My freezer is stuffed with the proceeds of twofer offers, as would be that of any sensible person (I’d guess that waste is greater at the poorer end of the market, where freezers might well be scarce).

**And how much do high delivery charges and minimum order values (Ocado has a minimum order value of £40, plus higher than most delivery charges), contribute to overbuying?

In fact, this week, I had no difficulty in getting my Tesco order above £40 (I’m conducting an experiment which, if it works, means I won’t have to shop again for at least 3 weeks). In addition to my weekly order, I also shop at online suppliers of stuff I can’t get at either Tesco or Sainsbury’s (forget Ocado, they ALWAYS screw up my order through careless picking). This week I’ve ordered some panceta, in the piece from a Spanish deli (T and S only sell it sliced, or diced, neither being what I want), three packs, which will provide enough for 9 dishes, perhaps 30 – 40 meals, so while it’s not cheap (£6.45/450g), in use it’s extremely economical. And none of it’s wasted, except for a little bone in some pieces.

My biggest source of waste, of late, has been dried pulses – specifically, chickpeas – that refused to soften and a whole casserole had to be binned as it was uneatable (er, yes, I do know how to cook pulses). So I did the sensible thing and bought a pressure cooker, and hard pulses will be consigned to history.

Over the years, I’ve found the worst source of waste to be roast meat, especially as a singleton. So now I toss it in the slow cooker, with some veggies and a stock cube, use the cooking liquid to make gravy, slice it and portion it for the freezer. Zero waste.

Thing is, though, if they insist we all underestimate out food waste, how do we know that they don’t overestimate it? Presumably they asked a bunch of families, worked out an average, and applied a multiplier. What we need to know, to assess whether their claim has any validity whatsoever, is what the multiplier was, and how it was arrived at – picking bingo numbers out of a hat, perhaps?

The Telegraph covers this in greater detail. Apparently families with children estimated their average food waste at £270 p.a.  The researchers then, apparently drifting into the realms of fantasy, mysteriously decided that what they really meant was £680.

This is what it actually says:-

“In a poll of 2,116 adults, average families estimated wasting more than £270 a year (£5.20 a week) on discarded food.

The survey carried out by Birds Eye with research by Wrap (Waste & Resources Action Programme) found the figure was £680.”

Just how they “found” that £270 was really, magically, £680, almost 20 times my own inflated figure, I shall have to leave to your imagination.

I doubt it will be as vivid as WRAP’s who, of course, have a vested interest in justifying their own existence.

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5 thoughts on “Fantasy Food Waste – a game for all the family…

  1. We’re like you Ron, and have very little waste, but I’ve seen people through out perfectly good food for no good reason.

    A lot of people ‘still’ get confused with the Use By and Best Before dates. We’ve got things in our cupboards that have passed their Best Before date, but are still fine to use. However, a lot of people would have thrown these things out, as they seem to think that they’ll get food poison if they eat it.

    Then there’s families who have kids. The waste there is horrendous.

    • My sister-in law always let her son have a huge (for a little kid), glass of water right before a meal so, of course, he had no room for food. Pointing out that kids had small stomachs, and filling up on water wasn’t a good idea, wasn’t well received.

      I had a piece of panceta wrapped in foil in the fridge. When I opened it is was covered in a very thin layer of red mould (it’s cured with salt and paprika). Wiped it clean. Smelled fine, so I wiped it with cider vinegar to be sure, and used it – it was perfectly OK.

      I’ve got a piece of Parmesan, vac-packed and unopened, dated BB 12 September last year. It looks perfect, and has probably benefited from being kept – it’s genuine Reggiano, the stuff keeps for years – it’ll get used, maybe even before its birthday.

      I really don’t eat enough pasta, though, and I don’t know why – linguine with olive oil, garlic, chillies and cheese, or a can of decent sardines and cheese, is almost as fast as instant noodles.

      The one thing I won’t trust though, is fish – there’s just no knowing how old it actually is. The ships are at sea for weeks, very often, and sometimes for months, before anyone gets to slap a date on it.

  2. With the ever increasing cost of food in today’s Britain, I find it hard to understand why so much food is thrown away.

    Surely mothers only need to buy sacks of potatoes and blocks of lard or dripping and deep-fry the resulting chips that kids seem only to want. Then to finish off their child’s meal, give them a bag of sweets as a “sweet.” For themselves, mothers prefer chocolate bars rather than a good meal anyway. At least the women I’ve talked with do.

    I don’t think very many modern mums can actually cook anyway, so it’ll be daily trips to their nearest chippie or some other take-away establishment. Of course they don’t even have to leave their homes, just telephone in their orders and impatiently wait for its delivery. Though they’ll be charged the 20% rate of VAT for these kinds of hot foodstuffs and services but as everyone has so much money these days, they won’t mind that too much wasting it.

    Joking aside, over the years, I’ve been given lots of unwanted foodstuff from neighbours to give to my dogs, past and present. Most of this food has been dinner scraps which always goes to my dogs, whereas other foodstuff has come in the form of sound, but bashed tinned stuff. Even the odd unopened, but out of date tin, such as SPAM, corned beef, peas, carrots etc. In every one of these cases, before opening the tins, I give them a visual examination, then after opening, the contents are then given the sniff and taste test, after which the said content have been used in a cooked meal or in sandwiches. What’s more, I’ve never had a problem afterwards and I’m still alive to tell the tale!

    The longest out of date tin that I received was a large tin of SPAM which had hidden out of sight in a neighbour’s cupboard until it was discovered during a spring clean-out and given to me for my dogs. It was over two and a half years out of date and the meat tasted as good as SPAM ever could taste. In fact it tasted better because it was free!

    All of my grocery shopping has to be via the Internet and I used to shop with TESCO, but stopped when I noticed that certain food items such as wholemeal bread etc, was delivered with only hours left on their “use by date” labels. Even after complaining to their customer services and given a food voucher to cover the costs at my next shop with them, they still continued doing so, so I stopped shopping with them.

    Now I buy my groceries and have them delivered via ASDA which is about the cheapest there is. The foodstuff has always been very fresh and during the odd questionnaire they’ve asked me to take part in, I have stated that as long as they supply fresh food, I’ll buy from them but warned them that if they fail to do so, I’ll just shop elsewhere.

    I even opened an account with Sainsbury’s just in case that ever happens but to date, I’ve never had to shop with Sainsbury’s.

  3. I certainly have little or no waste. if i do manage to keep things in the freezer for longer than use by date it wont matter with most things. if i think ive had something long enough and arent going to use it i give it to my son or daughter before thinking of throwing it out,both live on their own/ and if they cant use it, the pets can. i sometimes have an odd slice of bread left/ 1 small weight watchers slice.which goes for the birds.i dont consider that a waste. but eggs are the things im dicy about. i go ages and not fancy an egg. then realise the half dozen in the fridge is past its use by date.so they get thrown out.if i have a ready meal i havent tried before and decide i dont like it.usually the dog does.
    Leading on from food to wasting water. i take showers but only stay in as long as it takes to get clean. washing is done only every 2-3 weeks in an A rated washer. the A rated condenser dryer water is used on plants.only waste water is the 2/3 mins it takes to clean my teeth.washing up done by neccessity in an A rated dish washer. rarely drink tap water. only bottled sparkling water. hate the still stuff.
    back to food…i have done my shopping on a monthly (4 weekly) basis for about 10 years, initially by going to the supermarket myself. (saving about £15 a month on taxi fares as i dont have my own transport.) for the past 6 years ive done monthly online shops as my ability to carry has got worse. delivery is less than a taxi home.taxi now…averages £7. delivery on a tuesday mid afternoon £3-£3.50. so further savings. used to get wiltshire farm foods ready meals but in 4 years have doubled in price so trying other alternatives at present which for now does mean me going out to buy them and experimenting. but still do the bulk shopping online.Iceland however, once ive decided which of their meals /foodlines i like, do free delivery if over £25 worth of orders.that amount would last me aboit 3 weeks for main meals.
    also now looking for easy recipes for soups and smoothies which are easy for me to make using a blender and doesnt require any lifting of heavy pans or standing peeling and chopping a load of veg etc..if thats possible. am near a market so for £3 each way can go get fresh veg. i know that taxi fare bumps up the price but if i look on it as paying out once a week to go to the gym (its exercise walking round the market isnt it?) and there’s plenty of seats on a nice day if i need to sit down.which i frequently do. then its classed as exercise and leisure (people watching is a good pastime.lol).

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