TV Chefs & Food Waste

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.

Posted in Rants and Raves
10 comments on “TV Chefs & Food Waste
  1. jane says:

    Hi John
    Fully agree with what you say. We used to eat fresh chicken, from the coop, necked and eaten within a few days – lovely. Eggs were kept in Issinglass (can you still get this) but nowadays this would be frowned upon. As for waste (if any) this was boiled up, with bacon rinds too, to feed the chickens; this practice not now allowed. Where did it all go so ‘wrong’? Never did me any harm and I’m sure there are many out there born just after the war who would probably agree.
    Maybe you should put your first article and this one into one of the National papers and see if there are any comments. Failing that you could always book a slot on prime-time tele!

  2. Dr. Bill Cross says:

    Good for you at championing the move against food waste. Here in Victoria British Columbia the Victoria Foundation,10 Rotary clubs and a major food chain co operated to fund raise through a car raffle to raise over $100,000 matched by the Victoria Foundation to fund the collection of foods from the major food chains that would usually go to land fill. The outcome is to purchase refrigerator trucks to collect the goods and take them to a central storage and distribution centre to supply food banks and food community kitchens.

    The public bought in to this idea with good will and funded it well. I suspect this will be repeated in the near future. Try your ideas on with your local Rotary Clubs.

  3. Allan says:

    think Hugh’s parting comment was a telling statement

    Who do we need, retailers or the producer?

    well as a farmer, it feels the only ones that are wanted are the retailers. In the eye’s of a lot of the public we are just Badger haters and environment destroyers .

    Without farmers what environment will we have? I’m talking from a farm on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors, it’s all grass land and hard to make any money from sheep – well money losers. Cattle aren’t too bad, but there is a limit on how many you can carry.

    Sad times.

  4. John Harrison says:

    I think Hugh and many of us would rather see a system that was fairer to farmers. This would involve shorter, more local supply chains preferably direct from farmer to consumer where possible.

    Living as we do now in a rural area, I’m much more aware of the realities of farming on marginal, poor land. The economics are such that it is hardly worth fencing off land for sheep or improving the land.

    On the other hand, some farmers are very unwilling to look at ways to maximise their profits and shorten those supply chains. They’re blinkered and wedded to systems that no longer serve them.

  5. Stephen says:

    I agree that food is too cheap, which leads to being undervalued and then thrown away. Unfortunately a local farm shop near us had to close because they could not compete against the supermarkets. There need to be more of a social conscience about food (and a lot of other things as well), for example milk. We still use the milkman and pay a premium. This gives someone a job to deliver the milk and also enables older people to have their milk delivered.

    • John Harrison says:

      @Stephen: The price of food has decreased over the last 30 years in real terms but the price of housing has shot up.
      Since the rent or mortgage has to be paid it squeezes us leaving less for food.
      Also people feel there is a right price for things – the price set by the supermarket – and any higher price is a rip off. The supermarkets work that psychology with loss leaders and supplier squeezing so we think £1 for 4 pints is the right price for milk.
      The way the supermarkets sell also encourages waste – multi-buy offers. Milk at £1.50 for 4 pints or 2 for £2.00. So halfway down the second pack it goes off.
      The more I think about this, the more complicated it is. I think a lot has gone wrong with our whole system and perhaps we need a radical re-think.
      Having said all that, the problem as regards waste is certainly due to our under-valuing food. We see it as something cheap.

  6. G Birdsall says:

    What worries me the most is the tasteless veg that is being developed to bring in higher crop yealds. I bought some potatoes the other day and when they are cooked turn into wallpaper paste and taste like slime. Where are the fluffy potatoes I used to eat. I love Desire but the Rudolf potatoes….more tasteless slime….

  7. Raf says:

    As family of 5 we have been trying do our best to waste as less food as possible so far we came up with following which is working quite nice, thought I will write it in here in case it will be useful for someone else:

    1. Have always specific shopping list before you go to supermarket and buy what is on the list (this way we never buy too much because of promotions)

    2. Come up with your own or find recipes for all the ingredients that are still left in the fridge.

    3. Keep one shelf in the fridge for stuff that needs to be eaten soon, this way we always choose those products in first place on breakfast and supper.

    4. We have compost bin and throw what ever was left in there (mainly fruits and veggies residue), than during the season we grow french beans, tomatoes and cucumbers in our small back garden using compost from the kitchen waste. This way we don’t have to buy these products in such big amounts from supermarket, we kind of reusing the veggies we bought last year.

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