If you have been following my blog in the past months, you will know I have a bit of a bee in my bonnet about this and the way that food is sourced too. I strongly believe that there is a direct correlation between the way we in Britain treat local produce and the way many are living in food poverty. A third of all the food we produce never gets eaten which is an appalling figure when you consider how many people are accessing food banks.
We can feed our nation with good quality fresh food at affordable prices, reducing the need for food banks if we make some subtle changes in how we consume and source them. This starts with the food made available to us by supermarkets and how we treat it once we get it home.
Farmers across the nation are being forced to discard tonnes of viable produce due to standards set by the Supermarkets that they are blaming on the consumer. Even when we get food home in its sterile and uniform state, we are then throwing out masses of otherwise edible food because we misunderstand use by dates or are afraid food is bad once we open it, even in the fridge.
Celebrity cook and food crusader Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall is on a mission to stop the Waste and help us save money, the environment and British Farming. No mean feat, but utterly possible if every person looks very hard at their behaviour and attitudes to what is disposable and what is still useful.
The average British Family wastes about £700 in discarded food a year. Corporations throw away millions of tonnes of fast food from the biggest chains. That is 88 million wheelie bins every year. That is two Days worth of wasted food every week .
16% of all food bought is food thrown away. Hugh has a novel ways for demonstrating just how we waste that food, he just way lays shoppers and just opens the packets and removes the portion of those items that is discarded by households and throws it in a wheelie bin.
Family run Parsnip farm run by Debs and son Ollie is suffering , the cost of a small bag of Parsnips is down by 15p in 2 years. But what is making it more hard is the sheer amount of Parsnips that they cannot bag and send to the Morrisons supermarkets they supply. Often a slight curve or a few millimetres too short will make them totally unusable! There are no blemishes, they are not abnormally shaped, just not uniform.
The Hammonds are running at Cost and have not made a profit for years. If it continues it means closure.And here they become quite emotional. They have to pile up 20 tons of waste parsnips a month. The sight is shocking and really really saddening. 28 Shopping trollies full is about a tenth of the pile.
What we often forget is the wasted manpower, resources and energy needed to grow and harvest a crop that will sit in a heap destined for rot, ploughing back into the ground. Or animal feed because the supermarkets are so cosmetically exacting.
Hugh meets with a lovely man called Tristram who has been campaigning for six years under the banner of a group called " Feedback" to make local supermarkets ease their cosmetic standards to reduce the mountains of fresh food wasted as it does not fit the ideal that the Supermarkets claim, we the consumer are asking for. This Policy means mountains of food is wasted. A whole field of cabbages was refused because outer leaves were deemed too straggly. apples are rejected because supermarkets specify how much rosiness appears on different varieties of apples. Does this seem ridiculous? Of course it does!
In 2012 due to poor weather, 300,000 tonnes of cosmetically imperfect produce was sold in supermarkets and no one gave a monkeys! The harvest was bad in 2000 and again in 20008 when 40% of the total yield of potatoes was destroyed. No one cared, sales were the same of spuds that year and there were no increases in customer complaints. The moral of this tale,We have to tell them that they need to relax the standards!
Of the British Farmers who were anonymously and independently surveyed, in 70% of cases had issues by the major supermarkets, but the Hammonds are dealing only with Morrisons. Who are at first willing to speak to their situation, but it becomes apparent that Morrisons is not willing to engage as they claim ugly vegetables do not appeal to consumers, but Hugh proves them wrong when he sets up a Parsnip store just outside a Morrison's store with a sneaky nod to their branding colours and people see no difference between the parsnips in-store and the parsnips that would be sent back by the store for not reaching cosmetic standards.
If we want to take the supermarkets to task, we need to ensure we are not making our own personal waste mountains, so Hugh decides to join the bin men on the dustcarts and see exactly what an average street in the UK is throwing away.
One lady is throwing out bacon with two weeks still left on the use by, some eggs that expired the day before, someone else threw out a full sliced Loaf of bread that is two days out of date and as Hugh Says that was a bread pudding in the making.
I enjoy baking bread pudding myself so include a recipe so you can use your stale bread up. Just freeze leftover bits until you have enough.
A large loaf of stale bread, or use a mixture of different breads, that you’ve saved by freezing leftovers.
500g/1lb mixed fruit ( I use all sultanas)
100g/3 ½ oz suet
1 tablespoon mixed spice or to taste
6 tablespoons granulated white sugar plus 2 to 3 tablespoons for decoration
Cut the bread up into one inch squares and put into a large bowl cover with water and leave to soak for half an hour or so. While the bread soaks grease an ovenproof dish (approx’ 12″ x 8″/30cm x 20cm) with a little butter and preheat the oven 180c fan. You should also gather all the ingredients together ready to assemble the pudding (I find it’s a good idea to mix the mixed spice with 6 tablespoons of sugar beforehand) as you need to use your hand to ensure that the mixture is even. Now take your soaked bread and squeeze out the water, put the bread pulp into a bowl and discard the water. Now add the mixed fruit to the bread pulp and mix, then add the suet and the sugar spice mix and mix it all together. Transfer the mixture to your greased oven dish and loosely cover the top with tinfoil. Cook for 1 hr 15 minutes then remove the tinfoil and cook for 15 minutes more. It should be dark brown when cooked, remove from the oven allow to cool for 15 minutes or so then sprinkle with the 2/3 spoons of reserved sugar.
Seeing just how much food is wasted Hugh takes a retired couple in hand and trawls through their fridge for the things they are about to discard and he finds the following:
She cooks and buys for six people, despite the fact that only her husband and one child lives with them.
A tub of hummus, some tired tomatoes, fruit, a French baguette. Salad bread and some bacon are all about to be thrown away.
Hugh puts the bacon right back as he says the discolouration is only oxidisation as the packet is open.
Making Smoothies with soft or bruised fruit with yogurt or juice is a quick solution or just freeze surplus fruit ready for cool thick drinks when you want one.
And for those wrinkly Tomatoes? Just grate them add tired veg and even those wilted salad leaves for a nutrient packed soup. Blitz it up and you have a nutritious meal. Hugh has a brainwave and adds the hummus for body and a garlic kick, but admits he has never done it before ! Complete with panini croutons it looks delicious.
The catering industry throws out on average two Billion meals, millions of farm animals are involved. Fast food chicken being the highest number of individual animals slaughtered. Boned chicken pieces take 15 minutes to cook safely and people want their food quickly, food is prepared in advance so it is hot and ready when it is wanted. When too much is estimated to be needed, the surplus is destined for the bin.
Pounding the streets on a local high street , he finds Small chain Chicken Valley, has a wait time of 2 hours and then throws food away,but they know their custom well and it is generally only a few a day.
Just down the road KFC say they throw away dustbins daily. Thinking about how many branches of KFC nationally, their business is worth twenty billion pounds, this paints a depressing picture. 80 million fast food chickens are eaten annually. Hugh does some swift calculations and estimates that 2.5 million chickens wasted by KFC a year in the UK. Their website states that they wait 90 minutes before discarding chicken.
KFC are quick to offer an interview. They invite him to a modest branch under the Heathrow Flight path. Their Representative says the one million birds figure is about right. They are however conducting trials on a project to address this by donating the unused chickens to local charities by freezing it and allowing charity workers to take it away. This is sound policy. 6 restaurants currently donate in this way out of a total 870 sites nationally. By the end of 2016 they commit to half of their restaurants being involved in charity donation in this way.
Despite the efforts of Councils to reduce landfill by getting us to recycle our Paper,Tins, Garden waste etc, more than half of what goes in our general waste is not supposed to be there. A quick sort of the bins from the street Hugh is focused on, revealed a plethora of perfectly usable goods thrown in the rubbish, so Hugh has a kind of table top sale where neighbours could take home the discarded things for free.
A lot of people are very sceptical about what happens to the sorted recycled things we put out, many cynics believe they end up in land fill anyway. Hugh is determined to set them straight, so takes a bunch of field hard complainants to the reclamation centre where clever technology sorts the mish -mash in bags into distinct groups. Steel, aluminium, paper, plastic and glass are all sifted out. Glass is ground into tiny pieces, steel is attracted and aluminium repelled by huge magnetic fields, paper is scanned by lasers and air jets pushes it away from the plastic.
The Mancunians are hard to impress , it was only when shown just what the sorted materials are made into that their faces really lit up, jeans made from plastic, bikes from old tin cans all without using more raw materials. If the whole of Greater Manchester could be persuaded to sort their rubbish correctly, they could save local councils £25 Million a year. Just from taking ten minutes to sort your rubbish!! Expanded nationwide, that would pay for 25,000 nurses!
We can all do our part:
I already sort the recycling in my household, but I have learnt that cosmetics store Lush will take plastic bottle tops without foil or card inserts and then make them into new pots for Lush Products.
Make sure you are sorting your rubbish properly.
Try not to give in to buy one get one free offers for fresh food unless you have fail safe storage solutions and a general plan of how you might use it with existing store cupboard staples.
Use common sense with Use By dates
A freezer can be a Godsend, but keeping tabs on what you have is imperative so you do not overstock. Spreadsheets showing what you have in the way of mains, veg and sides will help you plan your shop.
Be creative with meal ideas and left overs. Make breadcrumbs with stale bread, freeze them. Make batches of soups and stews from leftovers and freeze in individual portions.
Learn about the best way to store foods, sometimes the fridge is not the best place as the moisture of the fridge degrades food faster.
The supermarkets say we want perfect produce, inform them otherwise!!