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How much of your supermarket trolley content ends up in the bin?

Tue, 23 April, 2019

When I see people in supermarkets loading trolleys with so much stuff they can hardly turn round the next aisle, I sometimes wonder how much of this food is going to be chucked out. Fair enough, maybe that lady has four rugby-playing sons at the ages 11-17, but maybe she’s simply overshopping? How much of that trolley’s content will end up in the bin?

food waste

Food wasting is criminal and we are infamously among the top world wasters in the UK, with about 75 kilo per person thrown away each year. Seventy-five kilos! I don’t know how much food in weight one consumes annually, but it sounds like each and every one of us starves to death a human being each year. We don’t need to produce more food to feed ourselves: just not waste so much.

I detest having to chuck leftovers, having been brought up on the ‘eat up because others haven’t got enough’ commandment; my witty repartee of ‘shall we send them what’s left’ meeting with no laughs. But the lesson stuck: I squirm when I have to swipe substantial leftovers off the plates into the kitchen caddy, I ache when there are uneaten vegetables in the after dinner pans and I detest seeing one last bit of meat on the serving dish that nobody is keen to grab. That attitude has significant downsides: I tend to force-feed people (verbally only, rest assured) to avoid leftovers, I hoover up bits myself to avoid tossing them and I’d rather eat something I don’t even particularly fancy than let it go to waste. At least I don’t go to the lengths of my grandmother who would occasionally make herself ill scoffing leftovers on day three or four.

It certainly runs in the family: my mother would famously cook too much to start off with and then transferred the leftovers into ever smaller dishes, thus generating incredible amounts of washing up. I try to cook just the right amounts but I know it’s difficult.

The hard part comes when you cook for more people than your everyday amounts; you tend to go overboard then. No fear if it’s a big roast which is just as nice cold on the next day, or gifted to visitors to take away. But sides? Salads? Quiches or rice? Casseroles? It helps, especially with sides, if you recall what you would be served in a restaurant: certainly not an enormous bowl of potatoes but just two or three aplate. Those bowls of side veg that land on restaurant tables are usually smaller than your cereal bowl. Visualise that, multiply by diners and you might avoid overcooking.

I disprove even more of emptying the fridge of the stuff that had gone off. I don’t do it (*feeling smug*) often but I appreciate how hard it is not to overshop. Don’t go shopping hungry. In fact don’t go shopping: seeing food online somehow has less of the I-want-this effect. Don’t buy stuff you have no idea what to make with, in the vain belief that you’ll ‘do something with it’: if you don’t normally eat sweet potatoes there’s not much chance you will suddenly start. Know how long stuff lasts – and it’s nothing to do with dates printed on the tub. Cream outlasts its sell-by date by around two weeks while herbs need to be used almost on the day.

That’s another thing that totally infuriates me: the phobia of use-by dates. Most foodstuffs are blatantly telling you whether they are off or not by the appearance, the smell or the taste. Dairy is exceptionally easy: open the tub of cream and sniff. If cheese gets mouldy, it means it has been incorrectly stored so you need to trim the mould is all. The soft curd-type cheeses like mozzarella and ricotta are an exception, their shelf life is only up to a week after opened.

Meat and fish are trickier, I agree. But beef gets better as it matures; I keep steaks in the fridge up to a week. Lamb and pork will last a good few days, and chicken – just freeze it if not cooking straight away. Freshness of fish is easier to tell if it’s a whole fish: the eyes have it. Dover soles actually get better flavour in a few days, like beef. Everything else lasts a couple of days easily and, really, if it looks and smells good, it probably is.

Planning is the thing although I realise how easy it is to say that: you tend to open the fridge at six in the evening and see what can be put together for supper. I am fairly disciplined and I plan obsessively so no sudden whims of ordering in a Chinese while the fish I’d defrosted and no longer fancy goes to the bin intact. Spontaneity is lovely but waste not so much. It doesn’t cost a lot of effort to give a minute of your attention to what you’ll feed yourself and others on the next day and shop/defrost accordingly. And to people who will disdainfully tell me that life is too short to plan dinners I can only say yes, very short indeed if we are unable to feed the world.


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