Illustration:  Meriel Jane Waissman

Illustration: Meriel Jane WaissmanGetty

Dee Laffan encourages consumers to be more aware of food waste and change our shopping and eating habits accordingly. 

I grew up in a home where mealtimes were something the whole family was involved in: whether it was being sent out to the garden to pick ingredients, prepping, cooking, or the dreaded washing up … we all pitched in. Our food usage was taken seriously in terms of menu planning, shopping, growing and never, ever wasting food. Even if it was used as the dog’s dinner, at least it wasn’t wasted.

Food waste is my father’s pet hate. He would always ensure we used up leftovers, managed our food so it was eaten before it perished and he drilled this ethos into my mind. I guess it stuck, because nowadays I find myself campaigning against food waste and trying to raise awareness of ways of avoiding it. 

The reality today is that we are producing more food than we are eating. The deficit is being thrown into landfills. It’s something I can’t get my head around. We are literally growing and buying food to put directly into bins. When you think about how much money and labour is spent on growing produce (ask any farmer or even if you grow yourself) you can appreciate the time, water and care that goes into every single vegetable or fruit. Products like meat, fish and dairy have an even bigger cost, as rearing animals is an expensive business. The total production cost is worthwhile if the product is eaten at the end. If not, it is the biggest waste of all. 

Ireland is definitely not the worst country for food waste. A recent EU report highlighted that we are nowhere near as wasteful as some other countries, but there is room for improvement – we throw away one-third of the food we buy with an average cost of 700 per household per year – and it starts with our attitudes towards food. Supermarkets are marketing machines geared towards making us spend as much as possible, above and beyond our shopping list. BOGOF (Buy One Get One Free) or similar offers, remapping the aisles regularly and price reductions are all ways of adding unnecessary food to our trollies. More food means more waste and ultimately more cost to us as consumers. Shopping with a list is essential and this can be made easy by planning your week’s meals, looking at what leftover ingredients you have and how to use them up throughout the week. It is better to have to go back to the shop than to over-shop in the first place. 

We also need to change our attitudes to product usage dates. The ‘use-by’ date is really the only relevant date that we need to take notice of. This is used on perishable goods like meat and dairy. But even still that doesn’t mean you should throw milk out the day after this date. Use your nose, eyes and common sense when it comes to using up food. 

The ‘display until’ is actually used for stock control by supermarkets and really shouldn’t be visible – a code would suffice – and the ‘best before’ is a guideline to try and let consumers know when food is at its ‘best.’ However, it is only fuelling bad attitudes of freshest equals best. Why do we not have the attitude of wanting to buy the food that is going to perish sooner so that we don’t waste it? 

I encourage everyone to just think about his or her food management at home. For one month, make a list of the food you buy and another of the food you waste. Add up the cost… you will be surprised.

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