Shocking figures give food for thought about wasteful habits

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Heathy eating may be all the rage, but some of us are not getting enough fruit and veg – because we're throwing tonnes of them in the bin.

MOST children have clear memories of being told to eat up their greens – with so many starving people in the world, having access to leafy sprouting vegetables was a fortunate thing.

More than likely, the insistent person telling you to eat up was someone who had lived through wartime rationing and was conscious of making the most of every scrap of food.

But while many of us who once turned up our noses at boiled-to-death smelly cabbage are probably now partial to a fresh vegetable stir-fry, what hasn't changed is our indifference to hiding a lot of our veg in the bin.

Despite having a greater interest in food than ever before – the prolific presence of celebrity chefs on our televisions is evidence of that – we have become more complacent about making the most of every morsel.

The problem has become so profound that UK households are now throwing out 6.7 million tonnes of food each year – that's 8 billion worth of groceries.

The new figures, released this week by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (Wrap), also indicate that this is a third of all food bought for consumption at home.

In Scotland, similar research conducted by those behind the related Love Food Hate Waste campaign have discovered 800m worth of food is chucked away by consumers each year.

At a time when we are being warned of a "credit crunch" and the need for some stringent belt tightening, it beggars belief that we are wasting so much money.

Other than the sheer waste of it all, there are wider implications to buying too much food – the effect on the environment is devastating.

Indeed, if we stopped wasting all this food, we could save the equivalent of 1.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year in Scotland – this is the equivalent of taking one in four cars off the road.

So what's to be done? The solution is relatively simple but does involve a little planning and common sense – don't buy what you don't need and make sure you use what you have. "There are lots of reasons we waste so much of our food," says Dr Nicki Souter, a campaign manager at Waste Aware Scotland, an organisation backing the campaign.

"We cook or prepare too much food or it goes past its use by date because we've forgotten it's there. But there are lots of simple things that can be done to reduce food waste."

One of the biggest reasons that people end up throwing food away is that they've forgotten what they have languishing in the fridge.

They zoom around the supermarket without a list and then end up buying perishable food they already have, the result being that the older food passes its use by date and becomes inedible.

Cooking too much is also a big issue and one that can be resolved by casting an eye over the back of the rice or pasta packet to determine how much a portion actually is.

And when you consider the amount of fruit and veg that goes to waste, you might think twice before you consign it to a cupboard or fruit bowl where it is forgotten about.

Fruit and vegetables make up 40 per cent of wasted food and in the UK and that includes 4.4 million whole apples that are binned every day. Each day, households are also dumping 5.1 million potatoes, 2.8 million tomatoes, 1.6 million bananas, and 1.2 million oranges.

But Nicki points out that you can simply and effectively increase the life expectancy of your fruit and veg by storing everything but the bananas – they go black – in the fridge.

Campaign managers have also issued an invitation to the thrifty and domesticated to post recipes for leftovers, and tips about food storage on their website.

They are also keen to appoint a network of "champions" who will enthusiastically share all the ideas they have about how best to use the food we buy.

Cycling food gourmet and Edinburgh nutritionist Nell Nelson has given the campaign her backing and urges consumers to make more of their freezer – if you make too much food, freeze it and use it on a busy day when you have less time to cook.

Top city restaurateur Martin Wishart is also among the top names to endorse Love Food Hate Waste and his top tip is to store food in transparent containers so you can see exactly what you have.

Other hints include making soup with your glut of potatoes or turning your fruit into a delicious smoothie before it goes off.

"The campaign's about trying to make the most of the food that we buy and trying to reduce the amount that we waste," explains Nicki.

"The food wasted is significant both environmentally and it also has an economic impact to us as consumers."

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