Most of us who take an interest in food and agriculture have been aware that much of the food we produce and buy is just wasted. But it takes a celebrity chef and a TV programme to get everyone talking.
Now I’m all in favour of Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall campaigning, even if the campaigns seem to coincide with a book publication. And why shouldn’t they make a few bob from doing good?
We’ve seen Jamie championing the chicken and showing just how we treat these creatures, pushing for decent food for children and offering practical help to those at the bottom of society’s heap in his restaurants.
Hugh’s managed to take on the might of Tesco, promote land-sharing, publicise the obscenity of a fish conservation policy that wasted half the catch and now he’s running his ‘war on waste’
OK, he’s a little late to the party. I wrote about this in 2008 – The Scandal of Food Waste My article managed to attract just 2 comments. Hugh’s managed to get the national press and what seems like half the country talking about food waste with 1 hour on primetime TV.
I once suggested the answer to food waste might be to make food more expensive, that went down like a lead balloon! I still contend that the reason we, as a society and as individuals, waste so much food is first that we under-value it and secondly we are losing the background knowledge about food.
The Value of Food
There are two groups of people who really know the value of food. The first group is people who have gone hungry. In Britain that used to be those who had lived under rationing in and after the war but since the financial collapse of 2008 there are ordinary, often working, families suffering hunger. Those with a choice between keeping a roof over their heads, the lights on and food on the plate. Personally I think that’s a national disgrace.
The other group who know the value of food are the producers. Those who grow their own know the amount of work that lies between seed and plate. Even more so with those who produce their own meat. Raise a chicken from a chick, kill it (not an easy job emotionally), pluck it and gut it. It’s worth a lot more than the few pounds it costs in the shops.
It’s good that we have sell by and use by dates on our food. If nothing else it helps you use the oldest first but these dates create a mindset where common sense goes out of the window.
Without a doubt our food delivery chains are better at supplying top quality food than they were but at a terrible price. Take a humble egg. At one time nobody would crack an egg directly into a pan or cake mix. Eggs were cracked into a cup first in case they were off. It happened frequently enough to make the extra washing up worth it.
Now the egg has a date and after that date it’s thrown away. Yet it may well, depending how it’s been stored be fine to eat. As did Hugh in his program, I’ve explained to people how they can check an egg by putting it in water – if it floats, then throw it. They look at you as if you’re mad – because the packet says it is off. As for cutting a bit of mould off a piece of cheese, well you might as well be eating cyanide in their eyes.
People lack that background knowledge and confidence to decide for themselves.