Waste not, want not: The Western culture of binning food

Supermarket promotions make it easy for us to buy more than we need, but it means we end up throwing away far too much.

Fact File
  • 30% The amount of food we throw away in the West.
Related Topics

Wheat supplies plummet, wheat prices to rocket: the legacy of a dismal wet summer is realised.

A little part of me, the restaurant critic that can’t help eating the entire bread basket before the starters appear, rejoices. If we get less bread in our diets, it’s good for all of us. But – of course – that’s idiotic.

Less wheat also means animal feed shortages – and so more expensive meat - and wheat doesn’t grow in isolation. We can expect shortages/price rises of many other fresh products; and if we eat too much wheat, we certainly don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables (only a quarter of UK adults eat their five-a-day). And when a savoy cabbage is more expensive than a tin of baked beans, who’s going to bother? Everywhere we turn, soon, fresh food prices will be prohibitive. As Professor Tim Lang mentioned on the BBC’s Today programme, fruit prices are already up 34 per cent from five years ago.

But if there is any good to come of this imposed frugality, it is that we may learn to change our food habits. In the West, we throw away 30 per cent of the food we buy. Almost a third. That’s a staggering amount if you stop to think about it. If a supermarket brazenly chucked out the proportionate amount of food that consumers do, there would be outrage.

So with stratospheric food price rises on the horizon, the reckoning. For me, it was already started by the arrival of a green food waste tub in the kitchen. The Sunday morning shop has always been preceded by a cull of what was left over in the fridge. An awful lot, it transpired.

Fresh beetroot, roasted more in hope than expectation, wrinkled and belligerent. Those Cumberland sausages, beaded with sweat and going grey. The cracked, dried-out heel of a packet of cheddar, hacked open in haste and put back unwrapped. All into the tub.

But it’s made too easy. We’re suckered in to price promotions that make us buy three cartons of juice when we only wanted one. Once a teenager has taken a glassful out of each and moved on, they turn nasty; down the drain. And nothing has the price on it anymore, so we’re removed from considering what we’re wasting, in money terms.

Perhaps we need to keep our supermarket receipt on the fridge door, like keeping a ‘fat’ photo there if you’re trying to lose weight – a look at the price of those chicken breasts poised over the Brabantia bin would be shaming.

For the modern consumer, the idea of planning a week’s worth of meals smacked of a post-war, thrifty-ways-with-mince mentality. But it may be an idea whose time has come again. One for your next cookbook, Jamie?


React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Daily catch-up: union bosses mobilise to try to prevent a Labour government

John Rentoul
Yvette Cooper campaigning in London at the launch of Labour’s women’s manifesto  

I want the Labour Party to lead a revolution in family support

Yvette Cooper
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine