The UK of 2008 is an interesting, if odd, place to live. Today our esteemed Prime Minister has decided the way to reduce the cost of living is to tell people to stop wasting food.
Blimey. This is the person who used to be the chancelor of the exchequer…. Scary.
It is an interesting idea that people are simultaneously eating too much food and wasting too much food but both seem like a sneaky attempt by a weasle government to pass the blame for another one of societies problems on the general public. Now, I am borderline in support of blaming the population for everything, although this time I think the PM has got it wrong. (Well, he routinely gets it wrong which is why I am devastated to think I will welcome a conservative government).
This outburst is another one of Labours attempts to demonise and punish the poor and the working class. According to the BBC:
A government study says the UK wastes 4m tonnes of food every year, adding £420 to a family’s shopping bills. (…) The food policy study also says the average UK household throws away £8 of leftovers a week, yet spends 9% of its income on food.
Now the slight disparity in the numbers aside, this is an interesting set of figures to throw your hat on. If you are a poor, low income family then £420 a year will be very significant. I refuse for one second to believe that people on the median UK income or lower are actually wasting this much money per year.
Flipping it around, if you are above the median income this becomes a trivial sum of money. For someone on £30k per year (a shell lorry driver for instance), this represents about two days wages spread over the course of a year. Not really something that is going to make them sit up and take notice. I am not a “rich” person but today I applied for a job that pays one and a half times that sum of money per day. If I get the job, worrying that a few bits and pieces I have left over will amount to under six hours work per year is the last thing on my mind.
Now, the second sentence is slightly more interesting. Interesting in that it uses two different types of figures. This implies that a family on £16,000 per year is spending £1440 a year on food. Out of this £27 per week, they are “wasting” £8 so, in reality are living on £19 per week for food. I refuse to accept that for a nanosecond. I would like to see you get your “five a day” for that paltry sum. On the flipside, the £30,000 a year family spend a massive £2700 a year on food, or £52 per week. They are significantly more efficient however, as they actually manage to eat £44 of food.
Are we, as a nation, to accept that the poor family who are basically struggling to eat still manage to throw away nearly 1/3rd of their food, however the indulgent rich are protecting the economy by eating it all. In all honesty, it confuses me a touch.
A second, and possibly more important line of thought is about why people throw food away. Sometimes it is food people have cooked and no longer want and I assume some of it will be the result of people chosing to not eat certain parts of the foodstuff (I will never eat a pigs brains for example…). However, looking at the list of biggest waste sources it seems the problem is throwing away food that has gone past its sell by date.
There is the usual call for people to stop going to supermarket, stop buying their goods in bulk (then allowing it to spoil) etc. This has a seductive ring of truth around it, however it doesn’t stand up to close examination.
Take for example the two different shopping methods. I can use a supermarkets online shop to order my goods (pre-selected based on previous purchases) in about 20 minutes. Add in the delivery and this whole deal takes up about 40 minutes a week.
Compare that with going to the shops every day to buy fresh, small portioned, perishable goods. The journey alone to the nearest “corner shop” will take me 5 mins to drive (but is massively uneconomical with the fuel) or about 15 mins each way to walk. Add in 10 mins walking around the shop (and ignoring any impulse buying) and paying for my small loaf, banana and orange. All told, this would occupy around 40 minutes a day or over 3 hours a week (ignoring weekends). If I was on minimum wage, this would be the equivalent of £16 per week spent simply collecting the food. If I get the £600 a day job I want that is, in effect £225 a week…
It seems that £8 wasted is money well spent.