Our wastefulness gives us food for thought



Hands up those who remember real fried bread? Not the limp, half-hearted specimen that shuffles unashamedly these days around the plate of a Full Irish but the genuine article fried in the fat left over from the Sunday roast.

In those days real men (and women) knew their fried bread and that it would put hairs on their chests (well, perhaps not the women). In those days too, there was little, if any, wasted food in the house of my upbringing. Even that left-over Sunday roast would taste better the next day, chicken bones made for great soup, and you’d never be a sandwich or two short of the picnic as long as you had a scrap or two in the larder. Soured milk was a delicacy and good for you.

What little we had we valued and nowt went to waste.

Research recently released from NUI Galway and Teagasc (the agriculture and food authority) says around a third of food that comes into Irish homes is being binned. The news comes as cost-of-living pressures are making it more difficult for a growing number of families to eat healthily.

In this time of rapidly rising food prices, Fruit and vegetables were tfe most likely to be wasted, according to the study which divided those polled into three groups.

The first group, called ‘All Waste’, were people who wasted food in every way by cooking too much and throwing away leftovers. They also disposed of food before it was even cooked and tended to buy and serve more food than needed.

The second group, ‘Staple waste’, were more watchful but still ended up more likely to waste fruit, vegetables and bread. The final group, ‘Overcooks’, were the least wasteful — cooking too much food but rarely throwing it away.

The researchers point out that the UN Environmental Food Waste Report estimates that, globally, between 8% and 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions come from food waste alone.

We in this neck of the woods live in a world where we are inundated with a mass of food choices everywhere we go, from Michelin-starred restaurants to fast-food outlets, to the questionable gourmet TV dinners for two, common at your local supermarket, bottle of wine thrown in for good measure. And we occupy a world where increasingly our children become obese and lethargic as they wolf down fast-food after junk-food like they were never going to be fed again in their little fat lives.

The Dating Game, a study by Emily Broad-Leib, director of the Harvard Food Policy Clinic, finds that inconsistent and confusing food-dating is leading to gross wastage and that change is urgently needed.

Trying to decide whether that pint of milk left in the back of the fridge is any good? You’ll probably want to check the date. Unfortunately, it probably says ‘sell-by,’ which is not exactly informative. ‘Sell-by’ date hasn’t gone by? You might pour a glass and still have it come out all lumpy. ‘Sell-by’ date went by a few weeks ago? You still might toss some perfectly good milk down the sink.

The Harvard study says we tend to fixate on misleading dates, assuming that anything past the date has gone bad — which is not necessarily the case.

According to Safefood, the all-Ireland body, food waste can be reduced by putting food away as soon as you get home. Check use-by dates to see what should be used first and items such as chicken breasts bought in bulk should be stored in the freezer.

In another report, the UN says one billion people go to bed every night hungry. Not peckish nor snack-happy but tummy-aching hungry. That UN report also backs up the Irish research, saying that every year a third of all food for human consumption, around 1.3bn tonnes, is wasted, along with the energy, water and chemicals needed to produce it and dispose of it.

The UN says Europe and the US have nearly twice as much food as is required by the nutritional needs of their populations.

And here’s another stat from that report: an estimated 20 to 40% of fruit and vegetables are thrown away before they ever reach the shops — mostly because they do not match Tesco’s and Aldi’s and Dunnes’ “excessively strict cosmetic standards”. One billion people in the world who are starving could be lifted out of malnourishment on less that a quarter of that wasted food.

A damning indictment.

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