Food waste: Why we must rediscover the wisdom of our ancestors – leader comment

Halloween pumpkins are a major source of unnecessary food waste (Picture: Liam McBurney/PA Wire)
Halloween pumpkins are a major source of unnecessary food waste (Picture: Liam McBurney/PA Wire)
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Getting rid of ‘best before’ dates on fruit and vegetables would require us to use our own judgement about what’s good to eat.

We are the ‘throwaway society’. Modern life has almost been built around the idea of rampant consumerism to the extent that hardware like laptops and mobile phones seems to go out of fashion almost as quickly as clothes. The idea that anything should be repaired is anathema to some.

But one of the biggest examples of just how wasteful we have become is food.

The figures are utterly extraordinary. It is estimated that about a fifth of the food we buy ends up in the bin at a cost of billions of pounds a year. So that’s money you did not need to spend, mostly in the pockets of supermarkets, for no good reason. And that’s not to mention other related problems, like increased greenhouse gases, and moral questions about throwing away food when some people, at home and abroad, are going hungry.

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Now a new report, by the Food Standards Agency, waste reduction body Wrap and the UK Environment Department, has recommended that retailers leave ‘best before’ dates – which are about quality, not safety – off fresh fruit and vegetables in a bid to tackle the problem.

Customers will instead be required to use their own judgement about what to eat. The ‘nanny state’, or possibly ‘nanny supermarket’, will be taking a step back, possibly to the alarm of some customers.

For this is the kind of knowledge that most of us have forgotten amid the relentless, on-demand supply of almost everything we could want. And some of us could end up feeling slightly lost when pondering the brown spots on a cauliflower and the like.

So we may well need to rediscover the wisdom of our ancestors – grandparents may be called upon – if we are to make the right decisions. Most of it is not exactly rocket science and the odd wrinkly apple won’t do us any harm, but some questions may require a bit of research.

However, this is the kind of knowledge that we all really should know. Food is such a basic part of our existence that it’s not something which we should allow ourselves to be almost entirely ignorant about.

‘Best before’ dates were done with the best of intentions. If they helped supermarket profits, that was probably just an unintended side-effect.

Food waste is a big problem and one that requires a solution. And that solution necessarily involves each and every one of us.