In a time of austerity one could be forgiven for thinking that everybody would be tightening their belts. But over the pass two weeks or so, there has been a level of food madness I just struggle with. Towards the latter part of 2012 there were reports coming through the media, that elements in UK society were suffering from ‘Food poverty’, hard to believe in a day & age of iPhones, flat screen TV & a generation who must have the latest gadget.
The Department of Health (England) describes food poverty as:
The inability to afford, or to have access to, food to make up a healthy diet.
Which could effectively cover the estimated 10 million people in the UK in poverty. A truly shocking statistic, I think everybody would agree, especially when the UK is considered to be the seventh richest nation on the planet.
So imagine my surprise when only a few weeks after food poverty story broke, another report surfaced which could actually be a partial solution to the above problem. According to WRAP (a not for profit company, backed by DEFRA) we generate 7.2 million tonnes of food waste (or 100g per meal), of which 4.4 million is avoidable. The bulk of this, one would imagine, would come down to ‘Best before’ & ‘Sell by’ dates on packaging. In an era where parents are trying their best to protect little ‘Johnnie’ from potential harm, & companies save themselves from expensive & damaging litigation, everybody now seems to be too over cautious. On more than one occasion I’ve picked the blue speckled mould off the crust on a slice of bread, dropped it into the toaster & happy days, there was breakfast. Much I might add, to the disgust of my partner. I don’t overly worry about ‘best before’ dates on food, as many of you may have seen a couple of weeks ago with a Vacherin d’or on Twitter.
There is the ubiquitous BOGOF ( buy one get one free) & buy two – get one free, offers from the major supermarkets, which are also playing their part. The customer is perceived to be getting a great deal, but consider it carefully. Will you actually consume the extra food? or will it just add to the mountain of waste? I’ll admit that some of the strategies used by supermarkets can be quite clever at times, but if we all took a little more time whilst doing the shopping, we’d all be better off.
For example, my partner & I eat yoghurts for breakfast. We like different flavours of the same brand, so when we do the shopping it usually works out quite well as our local supermarket normal has an offer on like this:
4 pack of yoghurts – £1.75, buy 2 packs for £3
On the surface of it a bargain, pocket saving of 50pence. But wait, do you really need 100% more yoghurts? The chances are you probably don’t, but the thought of actually saving money is how you’re justifying it in your own mind. What is actually happening is that you’re spending £1.25 you don’t need to. Easy to see where the extra waste starts to come from.
In the commercial sector of hospitality, food waste is estimated at 500g per diner and the SRA (Sustainable Restaurant Association) are recommend that patrons ask for doggy bags. Again, nice idea but I just can’t see this working, principally for the same reasons I’ve mentioned above concerning litigation. The restaurant loses all control of their product once it leaves the premises & I’m pretty sure that EHOs would take a pretty dim view of it, if it became wide spread.
So next I come to #Horsegate, as it was referred to on Twitter. The nuts & bolts of the story is this:
Tesco, Aldi, Lidl , Iceland, wholesaler MAKRO & Burger King ‘value’ or cheap beef burgers weren’t 100% beef. In fact they were proven to contain elements of pig & horse DNA, when the Food Safety Authority of Ireland checked. This then spread to fast food giant Burger King, who continued to sell potentially affected burgers, and then were exposed by the tabloid media.
Miss Creagh of the Labour party then made an outlandish comment that “horse meat containing cancer causing drug ‘may’ have entered the food chain”. An hour later the FSA issued a statement “During the recent horsemeat incident the Food Safety Authority of Ireland checked for the presence of phenylbutazone and the samples came back negative.”
So quite a lot to digest (sorry for the pun). Now as esteemed 2Michelin star chef, Raymond Blanc pointed out in a piece for the Daily Mail, the absolute hypocrisy of the British attitude to food and I’m with him on that. I’d have no problem eating horse, & apparently it’s quite a normal thing to do particularly in France. So when I started writing this post, four days ago, there seemed quite a reasonable solution to not adding 10 million horse/beef burgers to the 7.2 million tonnes of food waste.
With the country going through a serious cold snap, and there being a reported number of homeless sleeping rough, by Crisis in a snapshot survey:
In London alone, 5,678 people were reported sleeping rough during 2011/12
Why not donate these burgers, which have so repulsed the general public, and by the way, if you’re buying Tesco etc ‘value’ burgers I’d be a bit more concerned what else is in them other than horse meat, to homeless charities? On the surface of it seems like a reasonable idea, there will be the element of Daily Mail readers who’ll think that I’m treating homeless people as second class citizens. Not at all.
Then this morning (Thursday), Labour’s shadow environment secretary, Mary Creagh tried to link several horses which had been slaughtered in the UK & tested positive for the carcinogen phenylbutazone (Bute) to the #Horsegate story. The link was tenuous at best, but Miss Creagh claimed to anybody that was listening:
I am in receipt of evidence showing that several horses slaughtered in UK abattoirs last year tested positive for phenylbutazone, or bute, a drug which causes cancer in humans and is banned from the human food chain. It is possible that those animals entered the human food chain.
& that she demanded:
illegal and carcinogenic horse meat stops entering the human food chain.
Clearly Miss Creagh knows more than the FSA who only an hour after her gobbing off in the House of Commons released this statement via their website:
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) carries out checks in slaughterhouses to ensure that horses presented for slaughter are fit for human consumption, in the same way as they do for other animals such as sheep and cattle. The FSA also carries out regular enhanced sampling and testing for phenylbutazone in meat from horses slaughtered in the UK.
In 2012, the FSA identified five cases where horses returned non-compliant results. None of the meat had been placed for sale on the UK market. Where the meat had been exported to other countries, the relevant food safety authorities were informed.
During the recent horsemeat incident the Food Safety Authority of Ireland checked for the presence of phenylbutazone and the samples came back negative.
So Mary Creagh, can I expect your resignation any time soon?
After writing & researching this post now for four days, it can’t be just me that sees all of this. We have MPs who would try to score political points rather than help the most vunerable in society. Elements of society think it’s ok to add 10 million burgers to a 7.2 million tonne domestic food waste mountain, because it’s not palatable to them, and could go to some way to reducing food poverty. And a hereditary peer clearly thinks that having the vast number of people in food poverty like we do, should be punished even further by raising the price of food.
The Countess of Mar or Margaret Alison Lane as she was christened according to her Wiki page, has decided that the only way to address the declining domestic food waste mountain is to increase prices. In a debate in the House of Lords, Lady Mar said:
Food in this country is too cheap. It costs the price of its production in most cases. If it gave the farmers a bit more profit, householders, housewives perhaps, who prepare food would be more careful about wasting it.
Clearly yet another politician who is out of touch with the common man. Lady Mar doesn’t have too much to worry about, as she’s one of 92 hereditary peers who inherit their seats & privileges rather than actually contribute to society, & are then deemed worth to be a peer of the realm.
Whilst #Horsegate is just a one off incident, everyday major food outlets dump perfectly good food because it has gone past its sell by date & the fear of litigation. As a society we have to change our views on food, and accept that our groceries, like fashion models who have been ‘photo-shopped’, aren’t always aesthetically pleasing & not always going to harm us if we go past its sell by date.
In short, a little common sense goes a long way.