Talking about food waste

Yesterday, I had my first talk of the year.  I was invited to speak at The Bush Club, a volunteer-run weekly lunch club for the over sixties in Bampton, Oxfordshire.

This is the third time I’ve been asked to speak there. On my previous visit, I demonstrated one of my family favourites for Sunday lunch dessert, a Tiramisu made from stale cake – something I sometimes have leftover from making  tea for my local cricket club.  At this talk I also explained what happened to food waste in Oxfordshire and talked about the importance of separating food waste, recycling and other waste in order to make best use of it and minimise impact on the environment. It was interesting to hear that many of the members did separate their food waste, but didn’t actually know why they needed to do so, and what happened to the food waste after collection. Less surprisingly, I found that many members said they hated to see food wasted and rarely wasted anything themselves.

Although I was asked there to talk about my new book, Leftover Pie, I wanted to do something a bit different for them. So I decided to turn things around and ask them how they thought we had got to the stage we have got to, that I unreservedly call food crisis point. We had a great discussion and so I thought I would outline some of the opinions and suggestions that came up during our talk.

We talked about one of the big issues of our day, lack of  time, but we also thought that this was in many ways a modern perception:

  • “I am too busy to cook anything from scratch.”
  • “I am too tired when I get in from work to make a meal for my family.”

Looking back at their own childhoods, most did say that there was someone who went out to work and someone at home whose job it was to look after the home and prepare meals for the family. We discussed the fact that change does bring new challenges, but there’s always a solution if we look for it. We then got onto the subject of quick and simple things to cook from scratch like omelette, “quicker than a takeaway or a ready meal”.  We also covered batch cooking. This is certainly nothing new, they said, and was a regular thing they used to do years ago. The precursor of the ‘Ready Meal’. If you are making one meal, why not double the quantities and make one batch for the freezer so you save time and effort another day.  That way you have a ready meal, that you know exactly what you have put in it.  It will most likely have less salt and less sugar than many shop bought ready meals, it will be the right quantity because you know how much you eat and it will have no packaging. Another thing that was mentioned was finding balance.  Why are we so rushed that we can’t find time to cook a meal?  For our health and wellbeing, don’t we need to take a good look at our habits and check that we do have balance in our lives?

It is not unusual that several people felt supermarkets were a big part of the problem, specifically because of the way produce is packed.  Someone mentioned tangerines packed in a net so you are obliged to buy six.  She said, “By the time I’ve got through three of them, I often find at least one has gone mouldy.” Another mentioned that she found it hard to buy single portions of anything, which was annoying and occasionally she ended up buying more than she could use.

Someone else mentioned the ‘Buy One Get One Free’ offers in supermarkets and said they felt people grabbed two without even thinking that they wouldn’t be able to use both.  WRAP have been working hard to change this and many supermarkets have now agreed not to make these offers on fresh short life produce.

Another big issue I had to agree with, from what many people share with me, is that young people these days aren’t taught cookery enough at school.  Many of my audience yesterday spend a whole day every week learning about food and cooking when they were at school.  They also felt that they spent time learning cooking skills from family.  From my own experience, my daughters both had cookery lessons for an hour a week for half a term when they were about 14.  Time was fairly pressured after school so they rarely helped out in the kitchen.  We used to do a lot of cooking together when they were at primary school, and they did a fair bit of cooking in the time between finishing school and going to university.  They can both cook.  But many of their fellow students knew very little about how to prepare and cook food from basic ingredients.  Again, this probably results in a diet of food that is more expensive, higher in sugar and salt, and producing more packaging waste than a diet of meals cooked from scratch from fresh ingredients.

People felt that shopping more often for less food was also a good thing we should perhaps go back to.  That used to be the normal thing, they pointed out, before the days of fridges. Food was just kept in a larder and you only bought what you needed.  Simply buying too much food was thought to be one of the big problems of the day.  Shopping locally every few days, like they used to and their parents used to means you have a better idea of what you have, you can see it all more easily and things don’t get forgotten and then wasted.  There was a lot less packaging too.  We have gone packaging crazy these days.

I always think we can learn so much from looking back a bit, rather than always rushing forward. Maybe we have taken a few wrong turnings?  It is perhaps time we slowed up a bit to have a think about what we can learn from our parents’ and grandparents’ less wasteful lifestyles. And let’s take the best bits back into our lives today.



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Anna Pitt

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