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British Food Is (1/3) Rubbish

Posted By Worker Bee On November 5, 2007 @ 1:40 pm In How To | 5 Comments

A daily apple is a good thing (as we all know). Imagine an apple in your hand – think about the journey it took to get here, from tiny seed to shiny, nutrient-packed, crisp, sweet fruit, bursting with reasons to eat it. You paid good money for that proud little apple. It’s yours, and you’ve earned it.

Now imagine throwing it away.

A major study from the British government’s campaign against waste, Wrap [7], shows that a third of food bought by consumers in the UK ends up in the trash, accounting for a whopping 6.7 million tonnes a year hitting the landfills. Since that includes inedible waste (all those English teabags, for example), maybe that doesn’t sound so bad – except that only accounts for half of it. The rest is perfectly edible food.

Around 15% of UK food bills are wasted. (Doing a little speculative math, that’s a 60GB iPod per Brit every 10 months, tossed into the bin). But it’s not just about the impact on purses or wallets. All that lovely food is going to rot, releasing massive quantities of methane – a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. (It’s also going to smell pretty bad – pray you’re upwind). If this food stopped being wasted, it would be like a fifth of Britain’s cars were taken off the roads.

So the British are wasteful – but Britain’s small. What about the US?
In 1997 the US Department of Agriculture estimated that two years previously, around 40 million tonnes of food had been discarded [8] – and concluded that over a quarter of the annual edible food supply had gone to waste. And that’s a decade ago.

What’s first to be heaved into the trash? You’ll be unsurprised to learn that it’s the rapidly-perishing items – fruits and vegetables (40%, right there), breads and dairy products. These include all those items reduced for a quick sale that seemed such a bargain at the time…but mainly we’re talking about cooked and prepared food. (When was the last time you made too little food for yourself?).

Don’t feel bad about all this – because there’s something you can do about it, today. And it’s all about rediscovering the traditional old ways of shopping for and preparing food. (It’s true – Mom knows best).

- Make a shopping list

How many times do you buy food on impulse, then wonder what to do with it? Knowing what to buy in advance is the key to a balanced diet, but it’s also great for keeping your costs low and your grocery-shopping efficient.

- Plan your meals ahead

If you don’t want to waste time, you use a map. If you don’t want to waste food, you use a meal-map. Want to keep things a bit more spontaneous? Put up a list of 7 evening meals, get the ingredients and store them away safely, and then on impulse choose a meal to prepare from the list every night.

- Check the shelf-life of everything you buy

You want to eat the good stuff – and who doesn’t? But there’s a price. All that pre-processed chemical-saturated gunk has a big advantage – it’ll last forever (not such an advantage when it gets into a landfill, of course). Quality ingredients won’t stay fresh for as long – so make sure you’ll use them quickly, or put them into cold-storage until they’re needed.

- Measure your meals

Being slapdash with your portions may look impressive when you’re whirling round the kitchen, but later on you could be shamefacedly throwing away a pan of leftovers (what about putting it in the freezer – a home-made ready-meal?). Your eyes will always be too big for your stomach – so measure twice, cook once. Here’s a handy guide to your measuring toolkit [9].

Think ahead, and your food will always be healthy and fresh (and so will your conscience). I’ll leave it to you to decide what to do with those hundreds of dollars you’ll be saving over the next year – I’m sure you’ll think of something…

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from writer Mike Sowden [10]. Thanks, Mike, you rock! And thanks to Little Rotten Robin [11] for the photo. What’s with that leftover foil “art” trend?

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[7] Wrap: http://www.wrap.org.uk

[8] 40 million tonnes of food had been discarded: http://www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/FoodReview/Jan1997/jan97a.pdf

[9] Here’s a handy guide to your measuring toolkit: http://www.lovefoodhatewaste.com/perfect_portions

[10] Mike Sowden: http://mikeachim.typepad.com

[11] Little Rotten Robin: http://www.flickr.com/photos/littlerottenrobin/295319450/?addedcomment=1#comment72157602939283587

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