When my classmate Ray said this during our Political Economy of Food and Agriculture lecture, I immediately lifted my gaze and nodded because it made so much sense:
“30% of what is harvested from the field never actually reaches the marketplace (primarily the supermarket) due to trimming, quality selection and failure to conform to purely cosmetic criteria”.
That is from the supply side, but the comment she made about the demand side, the final consumer side (probably you and certainly me), shook me even more:
“Of the quantity that does reach the supermarket shelves, 30-50% is thrown away by the final purchaser in the home, often at the direction of conservative ‘use by’ labelling.”
This is not an exaggeration for narrative purposes: when I heard this I immediately raised my arm and asked:
Wait, but why? What does a conservative ‘use by’ label mean?
According to the Global Food: Waste Not, Want Not report put together by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, many of the ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates are actually careful dates producers set to avoid legal action from consumers. Many of the foods continue to be edible after these dates but are nonetheless wasted.
Another reason for this consumer-end waste creation is the marketing strategies we’ve probably all seen pressuring us into buying more than we need simply because it’s supposedly a better use of our money. ‘Buy 2, get 3’ comes to mind. And guess what? Because we are persuaded into buying more than we need and food comes with these eat-before-or-else labels, we end up throwing the discount (a.k.a. our own money) away or ingesting more calories than we intended to.
I always fall for this one: I go to the shop for one pack of toffee popcorn (£0.59 and 160 delicious calories): “Oh, 2 for £1 you say? Let me go ahead and buy 360 calories worth of sugar and spend 41p I wasn’t even planning to spend because that way my teeth, my waist and my wallet are totally winning.”
So, since I want you to feel like the time you’ve spent reading this blog was a great investment and consequently, you’ll get returns for it, I’ve decided to put together an ACTIONS TO TAKE section at the end.
ACTIONS TO TAKE:
- Track your household food intake for one week. Simply write down what you’ve eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner at home. Now you have a list of the items you actually consume. Give me numbers, not just “milk” but “2 litres of milk”. Write it clearly on the list.
I find that planning and minimising impromptu trivial decision-making situations in our everyday lives really saves precious non-renewable resources like time. Also, I’m an industrial engineer – I know better. Not fretting at the supermarket is a win for you from every angle you look at it.
- When you go to the supermarket, enter with confidence holding up the list you’ve previously put together: STICK WITH IT. “Oh maybe these 300 extra grams of cheese I was not intending to buy but that seem a better deal with my quick mental calculations are a good idea.”
NO IT IS NOT. It is not a good idea, you know why?
Because your math is not that good.
It’s not a good idea because even though your calculations may lead you to believe that you are now purchasing more of the same item at a lower price, you are really just buying one of two choices: a bigger fat roll (from when you force those extra calories down your throat so you don’t waste them) or money in the trashcan along with the remorse that you didn’t follow these steps and you are now part of the food waste statistic. Shame on you.
- I challenge you to visit a supermarket and not buy one single ‘deal’ that you didn’t intend to. Don’t stray from the list you’ve armed yourself with. I don’t care if it’s £3 for £10 chicken fillets or it’s 3 get 5 biscuits-from-the-devil.
So go ahead and try the ACTIONS TO TAKE. You better since I suffered a great deal sourcing these images by visiting the candy aisle at the market and walking out without buying anything.
I hope you had a restful break and happy 2015! I have lots of exciting things planned for this year and I’d love to hear your experience at the supermarket after reading this post.