Tricia Rawlingson Plant Throw-away comment on our wasteful lifestyle
It's timely that Tesco has published the amount of food wasted by its stores – 33,000 tons in six months – because at Mill on the Brue, an outdoor activity centre in Bruton, Somerset, we've managed to halve our food waste in the past year.
The supermarket now says it is going to introduce smaller salad bags, have less choice of bread in stores and look at changing its buy-one-get-one-free offers which I think actively encourages waste, as well as overeating.
Hopefully now everyone knows about this huge amount of waste, other supermarkets will follow suit and make some changes. I'd like to see all the big stores start offering apples, pears and vegetables in smaller bags, as the large sizes they are packed in at the moment inevitably lead to waste.
We've also heard this week that ready meals have been getting bigger and bigger over the last 20 years, sometimes by as much as 50 per cent. Not only are they generating more food (and packaging) waste, they must be having an impact on rising rates of obesity in the UK.
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Here at Mill on the Brue we've been concerned about food waste for a number of years. We make over 30,000 meals every year for our residential school and youth groups. We noticed children becoming more and more fussy about what they would eat, and just throwing food away. It was particularly painful for me to see wonderful organic vegetables and fruit, much of it grown on our own land, discarded by picky eaters.
We tried a number of measures, including keeping a couple of pigs to eat the apple crumble and custard or toast and jam – with the pigs being recycled into sausages and bacon. Unfortunately, because of legislation the pigs' dining table has now been limited to pig nuts, so we can't recycle our food waste in this way any more, and it was just going to landfill. We racked our brains and came up with a simple solution – serve smaller portions and then, if the children liked the food, they could come back for seconds (or even thirds).
We also introduced a Beat the Food Waste competition, which really took off. At the beginning of each residential stay, we explain to our school groups why we are giving them smaller portions, that they can choose how much to eat and how we weigh all the food waste at the end of each meal. This is recorded on a wall chart and each day they can see how much food they have thrown away as a group, and individually. When we have two groups staying, then the competitive element really takes hold. Even the Mill on the Brue staff have their waste weighed and recorded!
At the end of each term we send a certificate to the five schools who have produced the least food waste. Two schools last year actually had zero waste – Trent Young's Endowed Primary School, in Sherborne and Forres Sandle Manor School, Fordingbridge, Hampshire. Our campaign has reduced food waste from one tonne to half a tonne in a year, and we want to drive it down even further and spread the word. Many schools are taking this idea and putting it into practice back in their own dining rooms too, so it is having a much wider effect on behaviour and waste.
Smaller portions, whether in our homes or in the supermarkets, appear to be one very simple way of reducing the 17.5 million tons of food wasted annually.