Food, not so glorious food!
Categories:Recycling and Waste Management
When you talk about the culture of a country or a region, traditional foods of that area often come up in the conversation. In the UK we stand proud on the world stage with our traditional dishes such as fish and chips and the Sunday roast dinner. However, due to the global nature of food production and distribution, we are now very used to eating foods and dishes that have originated from all parts of the world. We want to be able to get what we want, when we want it. Gone are the days of only eating certain foods at certain times of the year when they were in season. Now most people desire to be able to get items such as strawberries at any time of year. This means food is now imported from across the world and the production and distribution networks related to food are vast and complicated.
This leads to several issues. It leads to a massive carbon impact from food production and distribution. It leads to masses of food waste because matching supply with demand as well as keeping products fresh and safe when travelling massive distances is not easy. Much of household food waste is due to the culture of buying what we feel like rather than what we need and will use. It also leads to price rises when fuel prices increase, or if there is a fuel shortage, or a driver shortage, or hundreds of other factors that impact the supply chain.
The issue of food waste
The latest figures estimate that 6.4 million tonnes of usable food is wasted in the UK every year. The carbon impact of these 6.4 million tonnes is estimated to be around 14 million tonnes of CO2.
For some context, this is the equivalent of the impact of 1/5th of road traffic in the UK.
It is estimated that 4.5 million tonnes of the 6.4 million comes from households. So whilst businesses in the food industry also have a large part to play in reducing waste, it is each and every one of us that collectively make the biggest impact. Potatoes are the biggest single food item that is thrown away, totaling 1.6 million tonnes a year. So we need to ask ourselves – what can we do at home to reduce our food waste? Can we buy the number of potatoes we need rather than taking the easy option and grabbing a whole bag of which some will go to waste? Can we look at buying local fruit and vegetables that haven’t travelled or been stored for long periods, so they will last longer when we get them home?
Impact of rising food prices
When food prices increase, as we have seen recently, most of us see a little less in our bank accounts at the end of the month but we still do not have to worry hugely about what food we buy. Some of us may have to reign ourselves in a little in line with what we can afford. But increased food prices cause major issues for the poorest people. There is an increasing number of people who are close to or on the poverty line for whom food price increases make a massive impact. Some then have to choose between heating and feeding (especially when fuel prices are increasing as they are currently).
This means that local food banks and other similar organisations, see an increase in demand. Those of us that have enough each month, please consider finding out about your local food bank and find out how you can support them with donations, monetary or otherwise. Often supermarkets have an area to donate items to the local food bank, so even if it’s just buying one item more when you go
shopping, please consider supporting them in this way. Others that may not be able to afford to help financially, please see if you can help out with your time.
Where does your food come from and what is its carbon impact?
I have been very fortunate to recently move to farming country, where I have seen firsthand the benefits of using locally grown and sourced produce. You have to go with the growing seasons – we have recently had lots of tomatoes and beans, we will soon have lots of leeks and parsnips. But the food is fresh, incredibly tasty and very importantly has a very low carbon impact. You often find also that the packaging is vastly reduced compared to shopping in a supermarket and that items such as paper bags are still widely used. So, this again reduces the carbon impact of the food you eat by buying local.
The pandemic has given many people the chance to reassess what is important to them and what they can change in their lives. Rather than falling back into pre-pandemic habits, now might be a good time to reassess our habits around purchasing food. I am very fortunate and for most people, accessing local produce is not as easy from a convenience or price point of view. But maybe you are now working from home so have a little more time and aren’t spending as much money on commuting, so can afford both in time and money to go to a local farm shop for your fresh produce instead of the supermarket. Maybe you can plan your meals a little further ahead, so you reduce the amount of food waste you produce. Maybe you can see what help local charities and food banks need.
Everyone’s situation is different, and each person needs to assess things for themselves. Government and big business have an important role to play too but one thing is for sure – we are all responsible in our own lives to assess the impact that our buying habits and desires have on our environment and those in our society.