When someone says “We should all waste less food” it’s very hard to disagree. Really, there is no excuse for chucking out one third of all the food we buy is there?
On the face of it, Gordon Brown should be congratulated for saying we should all waste less food. But that is not all he said this week, and the detail deserves a bit of examination…
First it is worth looking at the backdrop. Did he say we should all waste less food because it is obscene that we throw so much away with millions of people worldwide suffering from malnutrition? Well I’m sure that comes into it, but it seems that his desire to tackle the subject now has a lot more to do with underlying economic conditions.
We’re told that consumer confidence is at an all time low. That means we are all rather worried about the economic outlook, with the key factors being those closest to home – the ever rising cost of our weekly shop and eye-watering rises in petrol prices.
But what probably worries him more (and so it should) is the rapidly climbing savings break ratio. The savings break essentially compares how much consumers are borrowing with how much they are saving and, in the first quarter of this year, it rose to 69p borrowed for every pound saved. To put that in perspective, this time last year it was 29p. Why? Because borrowing (not including mortgages) rose to £22.4bn between January and March (up £13bn), whilst savings slumped to £32.7bn (down £11bn).
Basically, that means that too many people are betting the house (literally) on being able to maintain current spending patterns by borrowing – and hoping the economy sorts itself sooner rather than later. Given that we appear to be on the brink of a serious downturn (Can we use the ‘R’ word yet?), that doesn’t look terribly sensible. What’s more, it hardly helps the situation in the financial markets – with banks desperate to rake in savings to prop up their access to cash.
When you put it in context, this move to encourage us to waste less is designed to address an unpleasant issue that affects every single person in the country – the cost of feeding ourselves whilst food prices continue to move skywards. Ever the populist, Brown wants to help and says the only way to get food prices down again is to curb demand. But is putting the onus on consumers really the only way?
What about the supermarkets? We can’t blame producers for passing on the increased cost of producing food (They are already squeezed to bursting point by the supermarkets’ demand for ever lower supply prices). After all, we want them to stay in business. But is it really necessary for supermarkets to mark up those increases? Don’t they make enough money at it is (Tesco made £2.5bn last year)? And, if the Government really wants to stop us wasting food, why not stop supermarkets using loyalty card data and store layout changes to actively encourage impulse buying?
That’s all a bit moot though, because it seems the ball has been put firmly in our court. And I suppose it’s not all bad news – we could all save as much as £8 per week by wasting less (In the context of rising costs for just about every household essential, saving just over £400 per year can’t hurt…).
Having said all that, I have to confess that I (and my family) used to be terrible for wasting food, but we did something about it ages ago. Not just because it saves money, but also because wasting food doesn’t feel right. We probably throw away ten percent of the food we used to and it really isn’t about depriving ourselves, just taking some common sense precautions:
- Eat before you shop – The hungry shopper is the king or queen of the impulse buy
- Banish the monthly shop – Plan what you will eat for the next week and buy the stuff you need to make it, no more no less. That doesn’t mean no treats, it just means you won’t buy stuff you don’t need and that will probably end up being thrown away
- Don’t live by the label – Just because something is nearing or past it’s ‘use by’ date doesn’t mean you have to chuck it. Obviously you have to be careful with things like meat, but the label is a guide not a rule. Common sense can prevail and most of us have freezers these days…
Of course, there is another solution. If we waste one third of all our food, and one third of all food is sold at Tesco…