Rather than buy a pile of food, most of which ends up in the bin, why don’t we purchase only what we need to go round, asks Fiona McCade
Exactly how much joy does a Christmas cracker bring? A second’s worth? Maybe two, if the gift inside is made anywhere except China? It’s fun for a moment, and the hats are a real social leveller, but apart from that, what’s the point, except to create more landfill?
Honestly, I’m not about to say “bah”, or “humbug”. I love Christmas with all my heart, but I think the gift inside a Christmas cracker could well be the most transient pleasure in the world. Once cracked, you’re left with a lot of paper and something plastic that goes pretty much straight in the bin.
Is it really worth it?
It’s clear that Christmas over-indulgence represents a squandering of resources on a massive scale. From excessive packaging to unwanted sprouts, we jettison tons of stuff every year without a second thought, but when you see some of the statistics clearly stated in black and white, it makes your head spin.
Project Sunlight, the charitable arm of multinational consumer goods company Unilever, has joined with Oxfam to create the Clear A Plate campaign, which provides meals for families in need. In order to highlight the gaping chasm between the have-nots and the have-so-much-they-throw-it-aways, they recently published a few facts and figures to remind us how much good food we wantonly waste over the festive season.
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Around 10 per cent of every dinner served in Britain this Christmas Day will be thrown away. That’s 17.2 million Brussels sprouts, 11.3 million roast potatoes and 7.9 million slices of turkey, followed by 7.4 million servings of Christmas pudding and 7.5 million mince pies. If you put all this food together, you could give an extra 4.2 million hungry and deprived people a proper Christmas dinner. But instead, it ends up in the rubbish.
I’m veggie and I recycle like a maniac, but I’m still guilty of succumbing to a weird mindset at this time of year. For some unknown reason, I get scared that I won’t be able to get stuff. I rush out and get parsnips; then I rush out and get some more, “just in case”. But in case of what? Nuclear war?
It’s crazy, but I go into a lock-down mentality, planning ahead and stockpiling food, as if I’m going to be holed-up in a bunker for weeks on end. As 25 December nears, I always start acting like some minor character in Game of Thrones, scurrying around, muttering “Winter is coming!” and hoarding economy-size bars of Whole Nut in case I can’t leave the house for weeks, due to some apocalyptic ice-storm.
But really, what’s the worst that could happen? Tesco closes for a full 12 hours? I can’t get any more Toffifee until 9am on Boxing Day? I have to make emergency paper hats out of the Christmas Radio Times?
Another problem is that we’re conditioned to believe that we can only properly enjoy ourselves if we’re over-consuming. Extravagance is the order of the day, or we’re really not getting into the spirit of things.
We treat ourselves because it’s Christmas and because we’re worth it, conveniently forgetting that we’re First World citizens, who have little problem with treating ourselves the other 364 days as well. Then, having pigged out, we have to starve ourselves for the whole of January to make up for it.
During the festive season, we also buy loads of food that we don’t like. It sounds mad, but it’s true and according to the Project Sunlight figures, 20 per cent of us do it every year. I sometimes think that December must be sponsored by the Sprouts Marketing Board, because if it weren’t, hardly anybody would eat them. Ditto dried fruit. I can’t stand the stuff, but I find myself ploughing through puddings and pies full of God-awful currants, raisins, sultanas and bleedin’ glacé cherries, trying desperately to swallow the vile things down without chewing, because… well, I don’t honestly know. Because it’s Christmas, I suppose, and that’s what you’re supposed to do.
So, we try to have a good time in ways we wouldn’t necessarily choose; we feel obliged to eat all sorts of food we’d normally avoid; then we end up having to work it off by starting miserable New Year diets. We’re stuffing the turkey, then we’re stuffing ourselves. There must be another way to celebrate the birthday of Baby Jesus.
How did we end up eating turkey, anyway? I don’t know anybody who genuinely enjoys it. I don’t recall a turkey in the manger. I certainly don’t recall Mary and Joseph tucking into a roast one, with buttered carrots and extra cranberries. I’m not saying we should try to have an authentically first century AD Middle Eastern celebration (I can’t see unleavened bread flying off the supermarket shelves), but I think we’ve become slaves to many so-called traditions that we could easily do without. We get into a state because we’ve convinced ourselves that we’re letting the side down if we don’t have certain things.
We’re consuming for the sake of consuming, without taking a moment to personally decide what we actually need to make our own season jolly. If we did that, I reckon most of us would find that we could be just as happy with an awful lot less.
So, what can we do? Apart from eating lots of bubble and squeak, making our own crackers out of toilet rolls and discarded wrapping paper, and being parsimonious with the parsnips?
I know I must sound like a spoilsport – the Ghost of Christmas Prevent – but a little self-restraint wouldn’t go amiss, would it? Don’t buy as much as you’re afraid you’ll need; freeze the leftovers; have the courage to say: “I didn’t make any bread sauce because none of you ever eat it.”
Alternatively, since we habitually discard 10 per cent of what we buy for Christmas dinner, maybe we should just invite 10 per cent more people to eat it with us. Genuinely hungry people, perhaps.
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