Why does the average person waste so much food?
According to the WRAP (2012) survey two reasons account for 80% of food wasted in the home –
- Just under half of avoidable food and drink waste (worth £5.6 billion) was classified as ‘not used in time’: thrown away because it had either gone off or passed the date on the packaging. This included large amounts of bread, milk and fresh potatoes.
- A further 31% (worth £4.1 billion) was classified as ‘cooked, prepared or served too much’: this included food and drink that had been left over after preparation or serving, such as carbonated soft drinks, home-made and pre-prepared meals, and cooked potatoes.
- The remaining reasons are linked to personal preferences including health reasons and not liking certain foods (£1.9 billion), and accidents, including ‘food dropped on the floor’ and ‘failure of a freezer’ (£560 million).
Of course what the survey fails to look at is what food waste reveals about our culture. Here I’d suggest the following ‘deeper-level’ reasons for there being so much food waste…
‘Food materialism and choice culture’ – I’m sure many people overbuy during a weekly shop simply because of the attraction of a full-trolley and a well stocked fridge. Then there’s the fear of running out choice – Technically if you shop once a week, say on a Saturday, you would end up with a limited choice of meal on a Friday. We do live in a materialist culture which offers us lots of never ending choices, surely the number one reason for the over-purchasing of food is simply the unconscious replication of a (moneyless) supermarket in your kitchen?
Throw away culture – straight from my current favourite Sociologist – Z. Bauman – argues that the way we distinguish ourselves today is the rapidity with which we can use things up and then discard them – While I don’t think this quite appeals to our approach to food (I’m sure it’s generally regarded as shameful to throw away food), the fact that we are used to generating waste as part of our consumerist norms is hardly going to do anything to put us off throwing away food.
What I call the ‘Masterchef effect’ – Buying particular items to make a particular recipe, not quite using all of the items bought and lacking the ingenuity to innovate around left-overs, resulting in bits of food getting thrown away. The more complex the recipe, the more obscure ingredients to throw away next week.
Occasional ‘top up buying’ in order to satisfy whimsical desires for a particular meal – which means what you’ve already got in the fridge goes off. We do live in a culture of instant-gratification after all, so if I want stir fry tonight and pizza tomorrow and this means throwing away yesterday’s pasta the day after tomorrow, then wtf not?!
Hurried Lives – meaning we either don’t have the time or the energy to cook so we have beans on toast instead, meaning the fresh veg goes off. On the occasion I do waste food, this is my number one reason…
It’s not exactly a causal factor, just a perpetuating one: it’s hardly in the government’s interest to clamp down on food waste. The agri-food sector contributed £97.1 billion or 7.4% to national Gross Value Added in 2012. We may well throw £12 billion of this in the bin every year, but I’m sure it doesn’t cost that much to take it to land fill. If we didn’t throw away this food, then demand would fall and we’d lose 1% of our GVA. That’s a massive chunk of cash. Actually it’s more than the entire International Aid Budget.
What’s above are just a few Sociological meanderings on the matter of Food Waste, comments welcome…