Half a very hard sliced brown pan, four or five apples too withered to eat, a heel of old cheese and some lovely ham that somehow got lost in the back of the fridge and a tub of yoghurt that sat there, unopened, for far too long. That’s what ended up in our bin the other day, when it’s final destination should have been our tummies. All this once lovely food had been bought for us to snack and dine on, but it never really happened. Instead, due to oversight, bad planning and laziness it went completely to waste.
Along with a lot of other edibles, by all accounts. It’s just been revealed that one-third of all the food produced in the EU is dumped by shopkeepers and consumers every year. That’s 179 kg for every man, woman and child. And if you take into account my recent trip to the bin, it’s easy to believe.
We seem to have developed a very low tolerance of food of a mature nature, things that weren’t bought today or yesterday. And I’m as guilty as anyone else. Once any foodstuff has lost the peachy glow of youth, I find myself fast losing interest in it. Nothing passes these lips without a thorough, forensic examination.
A detailed visual check, followed by a good feel and a close eye on the best before date. I know full well it’s silly but if it’s a day or two either side of those little black numbers, then it’s considered not fit for human consumption – by me anyway. Others in the house are more than welcome to tuck in.
It’s certainly not how I was brought up. Back in our house in the 70s and 80s, nothing ever ended up in the bin. Cheese that had turned a bit blue just got the bad bits cut off; “people pay good money for that mould, you know”, bread that had grown a bit stiff was simply stuck in the toaster and I was regularly told I was imagining things when I said the milk tasted a bit ‘off’.
And the funny thing is that, the fussier I’ve become about ‘old’ food, the longer it takes for our food to actually age. Buy a litre of milk today, and if the date on the carton is anything to go by, it can sit safely in your fridge for a fortnight. Not to mention the fruit and veg you can by that never seems to rot, no matter how long you leave it there. And cakes with a best before date one or two years away? I’m not sure what they’re putting into our food but it’s lasting longer than it really should – and yet still we end up throwing it out.
The two main causes of food waste – in my case anyway are; buying more than we can eat and paying too much attention to best before dates. When you think about it sensibly, those dates are put there by the people who make the food. Of course they’re going to be a little bit conservative about their best before limits. The sooner their food passes this date, the sooner we go out and buy a replacement.
But there’s no need. Best before is simply a guide, it means the food is past its prime, but is still perfectly safe to eat. Use by, now that’s a different matter. Once a food has passed this date, then it’s no longer considered fit for consumption. But how accurate are these guidelines? Does the food automatically turn bad on the stroke of midnight? Are you risking your life, or at the very least a nasty case of food poisoning, if you tuck in? Probably not.
We’re all a little bit too fussy about what we’re putting into our mouths. And we should pay a lot more more attention to that thing that sticks out just above it – our noses. Maybe we should do what everyone in my house did growing up – give it a good sniff and if it smells ok, then tuck in.
I’m sure if I’d done that the other day, most of that food that ended up in the bin would have passed the test. Regardless of what it looked like and what the dates said, it was all, more than likely, perfectly edible. Next time I’ll definitely use my nose as well as my eyes, before I decide to add to my little mountain of food waste.
About 10 years ago, I did something I never thought I would and returned home to live in my native county Kilkenny. Myself and my family set up home just one mile outside a beautiful little village called Johnswell. And we’ve never looked back.
For a living – I work as a freelance broadcast and print journalist. I’m a presenter on Ear to the Ground, RTE Television’s farming and rural affairs programme, write a weekly column for the Kilkenny People newspaper and recently co-devised a new Irish reality TV programme – ICA Bootcamp.
And for fun - I keep bees, grow all my own fruit and vegetables and putter around my polytunnel.
Kilkenny, June 2011
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