Food waste: who’s to blame?

Today I saw an article on the BBC on the report by the House of Lords European Union Committee, blaming ‘Bogof’ deals on certain short-life supermarket goods for food waste by consumers. The report urges for more surplus food to be given to charities and food banks, instead of being wasted by consumers. This seems to me to be skimming over the larger issue. Yes, maybe consumers can be wasteful, but who benefits from cutting supermarket deals? The wealthiest of society might not be affected, but this is not so true for those less well off. And, what about the tonnes of unsold food that many shops throw away every year, from their own overbuying? Of course, there is some hope, as many supermarkets are becoming more innovative in how they use expired food, redistributing waste by re-using and recycling it, or even turning it into energy.

perfect strawberry

Another issue is, as consumers, we are highly selective in the foods we choose to buy; that strawberry is a funny shape, this pepper is the wrong colour. With both shops and consumers adhering to these ridiculous and unnatural standards, an awful lot of produce is wasted before it even reaches the shelves, all because it’s not quite “perfect”. (Although it is now legal to sell misshapen fruit and vegetables.) As well as addressing the large amounts of food wasted during the production and retail stages, the mentality of consumers and their approach to food should be considered.

The report by the House of Lords European Union Committee states that 15 million tonnes of food is wasted in the UK every year, saying:

‘It is clear that retailers must assume a far greater responsibility for the prevention of food waste in the home’.

Whilst it is true that spontaneous impulse buying can be wasteful, and deals can sometimes encourage this approach to shopping, surely the answer to these concerns is not simply withholding certain deals, but the better education of consumers. We need to make sure that consumers fully understand the impact of food waste, and how to plan their shopping around their meals in a way that is both cost-effective and efficient. (Even if this might sound obvious!) Meanwhile, retailers need to step up and take responsibility for wasteful production methods.

I’m just not convinced that a rethink of ‘buy one get one free’ deals will solve anything; what we need instead is a mass-shakeup of our entire approach to food, and how we use it from the bottom-up. It’s like they say, ‘waste not want not’.