THE BLOG

Food Waste: The Illogical Equation

09/03/2016 11:43 GMT | Updated 08/03/2017 10:12 GMT

As I watch 50 moist, perfectly round mini quiches mercilessly thrust into a waste bin, flakes of pastry and cheese fluttering from their industrial tray into a dark gaping mouth, my stomach sinks. The caterer promptly puts the tray down and continues her waste rampage, efficiently ridding the kitchen of leftover food from an event.

'Oh,' I say to her, voice catching in my throat. 'We were hoping we could have some of that.'

She looks startled, almost defensive.

'Oh,' she echoes. 'Well I'll put a few on a plate for you - there's loads of these anyway, we don't need all of them.'

Although my growling stomach is indeed prompting me to salvage the food, the thought of walking past countless homeless people on my way back home, around town, practically anywhere I go, is the more pressing issue. Us, the waiting staff, scamper round and smile politely and balance hot plates on our wrists, for a few pounds an hour and a free meal if you're lucky. The starving millions? Not so fortunate.

The quiches, alongside about 60 duck wraps, 40 sandwiches, an epic plate of salad and god knows what else, are the remnants of one event. This means that every day in the catering industry, thousands of perfectly edible food products are being thrown away - specifically, two billion meals every year.

So what can we do about it? Isn't the answer staring us in the face? Somehow 'Food to spare + the starving thousands = chuck it in the bin' just doesn't quite sit for me as an equation. But 'Food to give away + hungry mouths = feed the hungry mouths' - that sounds much more logical, doesn't it?

Unfortunately, it's not as simple as that. When I ask another catering company - who have appeared to efficiently pile up their leftover food on one tray - whether or not they will donate their surplus produce, I am told that it won't meet the requirements given by homeless shelters.

Hitting the nail on the head in his BBC1 programme aired in November, food guru Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall dives straight into the rubbish heap to expose Britain's biggest food waste scandals and how we can rectify them in 'Hugh's War on Waste'.

Taking an extensive look into the recycling industry and proving to non-believers how our crushed Coke cans and squashed bottles can be transformed into clothes, Fearnley-Whittingstall carries this approach through to the way we use our food. Many people are happy to factor in material recycling to their domestic routines, so 'if wasting good materials makes no sense, then dumping good food while millions of people in Britain are going hungry is surely completely unacceptable'.

So, what does Hugh do? He marches into family kitchens, shows uninspired people how to whip up a soup with the leftover veg they would normally dump; he visits vegetable farms and calls out supermarkets' hideously pedantic aesthetic food standards; he finds out what KFC are doing with their leftover chicken (donating some of it, I was pleased to discover). He neatly summarises the state of leftover food in Britain: 'to cause waste on this scale is criminal - it's unspeakable, in fact.'

Unspeakable indeed. Whether or not Fearnley-Whittingstall will incite a waste revolution remains to be seen. The question as to why we waste so much food remains to be answered. My opinion? Laziness and practicality. The extra few seconds it takes to decant leftover food into a container for the fridge, or Google a recipe for the almost-out-of-date items at the back of the cupboard apparently takes too much time out of our day. Add these seconds up in the catering industry, and you've got minutes you might not be able to afford to lose. Yet, neither can we cannot afford to lose these shocking amounts of edible food -- it is simply unjustifiable.

However, sparks of progress are appearing. France's new supermarket laws - passed in February this year - ban major food outlets from disposing of leftover food, marking a huge leap forward for global food distribution. The café chain Pret A Manger continues to implement its Charity Run scheme which donates unsold food to shelters at the end of each day, setting an example for other international food outlets. On a more local scale, the phone app OLIO - active in London and Bristol - allows users to photograph their unwanted or surplus ingredients or meals and pass them on to others in need, for a small cost or nothing at all.

Whilst the global imbalance of food production and distribution remains a baffling paradox, we might at least seek solace in contributing what we can: giving that half a sandwich you didn't fancy on your lunch break to a homeless person; reusing last night's leftover mashed potato to make fried patties with sweetcorn and cheese; or persuading your ruthless boss to lighten the load of the landfill bin one night and instead appease some rumbling stomachs. One third of all the food produced in the world never gets eaten - so think about that the next time you throw away something which might have meant sustenance or survival for somebody else.