A comment piece for the Guardian
The figures are stark: up to 2bn tonnes of perfectly good food is wasted every year – between 30% and 50% of all the food produced around the world. In Britain alone we waste a quarter of all the food we buy. This includes 1.6bn apples – 25 each – and 2.6bn slices of bread. If you could somehow get all the food we waste in the UK into the bellies of the world’s malnourished people, two-thirds of them would no longer go hungry.
Much of this waste is cultural. Your average Briton wastes 112kg of food a year: Germans, who are much more frugal about food than we are, fritter only 15kg. (Americans are even worse than us.) And that shows we could change some of this. Wasting food isn’t merely bad for its own sake: as Tristram Stuart shows in his powerful book, Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal, it damages the environment, uses up dwindling resources, and contributes to the rising cost of food in the developing world. The more food you buy that you don’t need to eat, the hungrier goes the global south. The Waste and Resources Action Programme (Wrap) calculates that the typical British household could save £50 a month by minimising its food waste.
There are several easy steps many of us can take to reduce our own waste of food. One of the most important is to treat use-by dates with scepticism. Supermarkets are quite reasonably terrified of poisoning their customers – Stuart shows how they calculate those dates for people who leave their shopping in hot cars for hours on end, put it in poorly working fridges, and so on. Evolution has given you clear and powerful senses that can help to determine if meat or produce has gone bad. Bear use-by dates in mind, of course, but you know from the smell of the milk if you shouldn’t be drinking it.