July 8, 2008

Hard to Stomach: Eradicating Food Waste is a Priority

COOKING with Prudence. Not the title of the latest recipe book to hit the shelves but the message yesterday from Gordon Brown to Britons, each of whom wastes on average GBP420 worth of food each year. That creates an annual food mountain weighing 4.1m tonnes. Taking greater care with the food we buy, so that we use it before we waste it, was one of the Prime Minister's themes as he left for the G8 summit in Japan. But prudence should be exercised not only in the kitchen. Mr Brown urged people to be disciplined in their shopping, so that they did not buy unnecessary foodstuffs, to plan meals and to store perishables properly.

The Prime Minister risks criticism for lecturing the public in the manner of a dour, killjoy Presbyterian when people already have more than enough on their plates (so to speak) with worries about job security in the economic downturn and rising costs hitting them hard in the pocket. But such criticism would be unfair. Indeed, the Cabinet Office report which contains the food waste findings could not have been published at a more opportune time than yesterday.

Food prices have been rising steadily, ratcheting up the weekly shopping bills in the process. The report might just be the catalyst to shock people into shopping more responsibly and resisting the supermarket lure of twofor-one offers and bargains they might not actually need. Context is everything. Other reports have been published in the past 18 months with even bigger headline figures for the value of food wasted in Britain: GBP424 a person a year in one study, GBP10bn annually in another. These figures did not cause shopping habits or the throwaway culture to change. With food prices rising steadily for the first time in very many years, caution might finally prevail.

There is also a moral dimension to food profligacy. Food production, processing, distribution and storage account for some 20per cent of greenhouse gases. Food waste takes on a criminal aspect when it exacts such a high price; to say nothing of the crass disparity it reveals between our rash extravagance in the industrialised nations and the meagre pittance upon which people in the poorest parts of the world must survive. Each British household's average annual food waste bill equates roughly to the sum someone in Niger, west Africa, would live on for two-anda-half years.

That contrast alone should shame us into more responsible behaviour. Giving only a small amount of the money saved to charities fighting hunger in Africa would make a difference. Rising food prices threaten about one billion people with starvation. It will require the collective will of the G8 leaders to mitigate the impact. Setting a good example on the home front, by eradicating waste and its baleful consequences, would be a start.

Originally published by Newsquest Media Group.

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