MY late mother, Beria, never wasted food or water. Long before it was fashionable she saved every drop of water. In the years when she lived in towns where there was running water on-tap she kept an enamel bowl in the sink which caught the drippings which she poured onto the garden. She remembered how, when they lived in Murrin-Murrin and there was no running water, no electricity, and the lavatory was a hole in the ground with a board across the top, my father had to walk, every second day, several miles in each direction, and transport water using a shoulder yoke and two large kerosene tins as buckets. Beria was recycling long before it was invented. She never threw out anything because she never knew when it might come in handy.
I am very much like her but not as rigorous in the application, although I never waste food. That is the bête noireof my life. Any scraps are put-out for the birds. Every time I put the vegetable peelings into the bin – I know I should have a compost heap – I feel guilty that I do not have chooks. They would love them. I spent half my childhood feeding Beria’s vegetable peelings to the chooks.
One of my colleagues wasted so much food you could have fed three families on what she put into the bin. One of the worst regulations ever to come into practice is the use-by date. What a load rubbish that is. Why would you put a use-by date on a fruit cake or a plum pudding? The older, the better. I would happily buy and consume out-of-date food. I am smart enough to know when something has gone-off. You can smell or taste it; besides, a bottle of tomato sauce does not suddenly go-off overnight because its use-by date has come around. The tomato sauce is not that smart!! Do we really think a little brown spot on a grape is going to kill us? That a yoghurt that was perfectly good for our supper will have transmogrified at the stroke of midnight into a breakfast biohazard? When did we stop trusting our own instincts? What supermarkets throw-out as a consequence of this ridiculousness is obscene. It feels like a bad joke at our expense. The horrendous waste caused by retailers has to stop, and people should ask their supermarkets to make that happen. I happily buy from the NQR shop in Ballarat. I see no reason why I should be adding to the gross profits of the two monopolising supermarkets – although the third one is starting to give them a run for their money.
I read a most distressing article in the London Telegraph. The journalist wrote:
Tonnes of perfectly good food are thrown away in the UK every year. I’ve witnessed some pretty grim scenes in the food business down the years appalling conditions in the poultry industry, crazy EU fishing laws, all kinds of greed and folly. Root vegetables may be a touch harder to feel for than chickens or fish, but watching 20 tonnes of freshly dug parsnips consigned to the rubbish heap in a Norfolk farmyard purely because they didn’t look pretty enough is still one of the most shocking things I’ve ever seen. That’s not just a few sackfuls of parsnips, it’s not a skip-load; it’s a colossal mountain of them enough to fill nearly 300 shopping trolleys, and more importantly perhaps, to feed 100,000 people with a generous portion of roast parsnips.
That was just one week’s wastage. So multiply by the 40 or so weeks of parsnip season (September-May) to get the full annual figure four million parsnip portions that could, but won’t, be eaten. Yet the supermarkets found them wanting. They “failed” the “cosmetic standards”. They weren’t wonky, or forked, or bruised, or even “ugly”. They just departed, sometimes by a matter of millimetres, from some bizarre set of specifications that defines, with apparent omniscience, what it is that we, the customers, demand our parsnips to be. Not that anyone’s asked us.
Such profligacy is not just immoral, it’s unnecessary. Given the chance, High Street shoppers were only too happy to take them. People couldn’t believe all this great food was being dumped. Supermarkets may claim that consumers will only accept ramrodstraight carrots and flawless apples, but I simply don’t buy it.
Almost 50% of wasted food in the UK comes from the home. Households throw out seven-million tonnes of food and drink each year, including 680,000 tonnes of bakery, at a cost of £1.1bn. Domestic food waste costs the average household £470 a year, up to £700 for a family with children a total of £12.5bn a year. While these statistics are English, I have no doubt they are – per capita – replicated in Australia. They maybe be even worse in this country because Australians earn more money than their British counterparts.
Stop! Wasting food is offensive. We could feed the starving millions on what we discard. We all have to live on this planet and it is time we stopped being so stupid, and so bloody selfish. Since I fell on a impecunious times – and they are not going to last for ever – I have become so much more aware of what I spend. I do not buy food that I am not going to eat. It was has been one of life’s best lessons for me. I have never eaten better, and I have never wasted less food or money.
If you are one of the wasters, then you should try it.
Roland can be heard each MONDAY morning on 3BA at 10.30 with Edwin Cowlishaw.