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You are here: Home arrow Articles arrow Conservation and the environment arrow Dustbin or Dinnertable?


Dustbin or Dinnertable?

Written by Jonnyboy

Why the waste generated by our shopping habits should be a concern to all.

Dustbin or dinner table?  How wasted food should concern us all.

Sainsbury's recent woes have highlighted one key thing; the consumer likes a well stacked shelf.  Criticised for a lack of stock availability, their  new CEO confirmed that the company would focus on food and try to keep shelves better stocked, whilst writing off £140M from it's now redundant IT system that was expected to deliver huge supply chain improvements.

But in the great supermarket war this means bad news for the environment, the suppliers and inevitably the consumer.

Any drive to maximise stock availability with a perishable item will increase the risk of wastage, you only need to look at the ‘marked down' section in Tesco to see that dairy, fresh foods & vegetables predominate. Consider that a nearly all of the mushy fruit on special offer was grown abroad and shipped here and you begin to realise the amount of wasted resources.

Supermarkets are understandably coy about the waste generated by their activities, however, Lord Haskins, an adviser to the Government on food issues, estimates that supermarkets throw away 5 per cent of their food. This is the 'tip of the iceberg' compared with the entire supply chain. 'Total waste from the farm to the kitchen table is about 70 per cent,' he claims. Even if you consider 5% to be accurate then that still leaves over 40 million chickens that were destined for the dustbin rather than the dinnertable.  In truth the amount wasted will be far higher.

There is even a new breed of ethical consumer sticking up two fingers to the sell by date and exploiting the possibilities of this wastage. The ‘Freegan' - people who eat free food otherwise destined for the dump; surplus produce found in supermarket bins, market stalls and bakery doorways.

When you consider the humanitarian achievements that could be made by redistributing our resources it becomes almost sickening to comprehend a walk down those brightly lit aisles.  Any enterprising hacker who wants to replace Tesco TV with scenes from the Darfur refugee camp would get my support. Heck, I'd stand up and applaud them.

Unfortunately it's the rest of us who must look to our actions and their influence on supermarket activity.  Consumers contemplating an empty space where their favourite cereal, beer or free range chicken normally resides may turn on their heel in a fit of pique and shop elsewhere, or so the supermarket fears.

Intensive farming practices and demands for ‘right here, right now' have led to our animals, fruits & vegetables being treated as commodities akin to a bar of soap or DVD. Production is regulated; compressed or increased to suit an ever changing demand created by the weather, advertising, the latest diet craze or a minor celebrities faux pas, (expect Rebecca Loos sausages to hit your shelves soon)

However, we should be open to the fact that what we came for may not be what we leave with, if the spirit of sustainability and seasonality is too be embraced.

And to achieve that, we need to shop elsewhere in the first place.

Consider a recent exchange with my local organic farmer where I enquired about his chickens (beautiful Marans & Light Sussex) ‘Not ready for another, hmmmm three weeks I reckon, Requests for particular cuts of pork & beef were met with a similar response.

The chickens in question were happily wandering around a small corner of his hundred acres, growing at their own pace and blissfully unaware that their lifespan will be two to three times longer than their intensively farmed cousins, who sometimes only live for a meagre eight weeks before hitting the supermarkets shelf, or bin.  When they are ready, he'll let me know, I may not want one then but it doesn't change his policy, if we are going to kill and eat them the least we can do is let them live a normal live until we do.

So after wandering around the farm, ordering a Christmas goose and debating on how good one of his fat Barbary ducks would taste I eventually left with huge topside of beef and a rolled & boned pork shoulder. Certainly I would have to change my cooking plans, but my meal, and my guests would be none the poorer for it. 

I'll eat my food with a clear conscience, it might be rabbit or pigeon I shot myself, some well marbled beef, Welsh Black lamb, haggis, devilled mackerel, saffron risotto or a simple stew, but for me it means dancing to natures tune.

Jon Sims

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