Let’s stop talking about food waste.
For a company whose whole purpose is to tackle food waste to claim we need to stop talking about food waste may seem counter-intuitive – but hear us out. Britain has never wasted so much food. In less than an average lifetime, we’ve gone from rationing to throwing out a third of all the food we grow. The latest figures conservatively estimate that every year, the UK bins £12.5 billion worth of food – much of which could be eaten. We could say that we have a food waste problem. But we think it’s time to change that discourse: we have a food problem.
That’s the uncomfortable thing about food waste – it’s actually not waste at all. It’s food that we don’t value enough to consider food.
We know from linguistic studies that there’s reason to think that the language we use influences – maybe even determines – our worldview, and therefore also our behaviour. If we keep referring to food as food waste, we have an easier time accepting is as waste rather than anything of value.
So here’s an issue we’re grappling with: as a society, we’ve come to believe in the concept of waste, and accept it as inevitable. But notice that in nature, nothing is wasted. Natural systems are cyclical, everything has its place and is used in one way or another. Even stuff we might consider waste is recycled.
Our readiness to accept some food as waste also comes from the fact that we value food less than we used to. Many of us have access to an incredibly abundant amount of food, which makes it a commodity that’s pretty disposable. For many people, there’s no consequence in throwing out food when you can so easily get more of it. But we’re also completely disconnected from our food system – we think of food as something we buy in shops or order in restaurants. We don’t know how long it takes to grow our food, or how many resources go into getting it right in front of our noses, ready for purchase. If you’ve ever tried growing simple stuff like tomatoes or carrots in your back garden you will know how much care they need. Now imagine doing that on a massive industrial scale, with complex labour and transport logistics on top… Our food system works in a way that the food itself is actually a very small component of the price we, as consumers, pay for it – but that’s, for the most part, invisible.
What can we do about all that, then? We can do is start valuing food more. This is what we’re doing with Snact. By using surplus, we create value out of food that should not be wasted. And we’re not the only brand that’s transforming unvalued food into positive products that we all benefit from: there’s also Rubies in the Rubble, Toast Ale, Rejuce, and a whole array of other companies that tap into that underused resource. By putting your purchasing power behind those initiatives, you are sending a clear message to companies who have yet to change their provenance strategies.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg – you can do so much more than that at home, at no extra cost. Try revaluing how you see food every day: rather than seeing it as disposable, try seeing it as something precious. It’s easy to throw out waste, but it shouldn’t be easy to discard food. If it helps, get inspired by the wartime rationing propaganda posters where food is a moral and ideological good, or if you need a more tangible motivation, picture the food you are about to bin as money or gold – nobody throws out a banknote for being crumpled!
There are so many ways to be more thrifty with food at home. Look up what you can freeze (and you will find that the answer is almost everything!), or dehydrate things in your oven (no fancy equipment required). Make stews or soups from vegetables that have gone soft, add wilted herbs to tea or lemonade, find a use for leftovers like peels – they can often be fried or baked and eaten, or collect a bunch and cook them into a delicious broth. With a little help from your friends or Google, you should have no shortage of ideas. Use apps like Olio to share unwanted items with people in your neighbourhood, and you’ll find that any trash can be someone’s treasure. Challenge yourself to not put any food items in the bin for a week, and see where it takes you.
If you put your mind to it, there’s always a way!
Join the conversation online and share your thrifty ideas to prevent food waste with #foodrevolution.