Consumers should ‘use nose rather than eyes’

Graham Head says most fruit and vegetables are safe to eat, especially if turned into soup, a week after the use-by date.
Graham Head says most fruit and vegetables are safe to eat, especially if turned into soup, a week after the use-by date.
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CONSUMERS have the power to change. That is the message from the Berwick Slow Food group leader following a report that up to half of all the food the world produces each year never reaches our mouths.

It would be easy to blame others. Supermarkets, multi-national companies, farmers, politicians at home and abroad, and our local councillors could all be asked to do more to address the problem.

It certainly isn’t one that will go away. Indeed, the wider implications are scary. The planet faces the prospect of having to feed nine to 10 billion people by 2050. Three billion more than today.

Experts also predict the extreme weather, which damaged the quantity and quantity of food harvested last year, in Britain and around the world, is likely to continue.

There is no simple solution to the global problem of food waste. But Graham Head, the leader of Berwick Slow Food group, believes every individual can do their bit. “We need to trust our senses more,” he said. “We shouldn’t always rely on the use by date and apply it mechanically. Particularly with fruit and vegetables. They are usually OK for a week after the use by date, especially if you’re planning to cook them. It’s a case of using common sense.

“My other tip is turning vegetables into soup. Even if they’re past their use by date, it is not a problem. You are boiling vegetables to make soup, so that kills off any harmful bacteria. Rather than throwing stuff away, I think we all need to be more creative.”

The report estimates between 30 and 50% of the four billion tonnes of food the world produces each year is wasted. It also suggests Britons may be wasting half the food we buy in supermarkets, at a cost of £480 per average household. While it is tempting to blame the supermarkets, Graham points out that it the consumers who have the real power.

“Supermarkets are responsible for something like 80 to 90% of the food we eat at the table,” he said. “That is unlikely to change, so to cut down on food waste we need to change supermarkets. They are very responsive to consumer demand. Supermarkets reject around 30% of the produce they receive before it reaches the shelves. That’s because they insist on their products looking good. Consumers generally don’t buy anything with nobbly bits.

“The only way supermarkets will stop rejecting so much food is if we, the consumers, change our behaviour. So I would advise people to buy the stuff which has nobbly bits.

“We should rely less on their eyes and more on our sense of taste and smell. If you grow vegetables in the garden, they might look a bit scabby compared to what you see in the supermarket. But it tastes better.”

The Berwick Slow Food group was established in 2006 to celebrate the rich food heritage in north Northumberland and the Borders. It is part of a global network which began as a response to the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.

Graham regularly shops at the Green Shop on Bridge Street in Berwick for locally-produced, and often organic, food. He is also a strong advocate of simple, but creative, home cooking.

“Our eyes our bigger than our stomachs, especially when it comes to buy-one-get-one-free offers in supermarkets,” he added. “We should stop demanding that everything is packaged and buy more loose products.

“It does take a bit of effort to plan ahead, but the Green Shop has quality loose stuff, not packaged. It is organic and it is generally cheaper and better quality than what you’ll find in a supermarket.”

His final piece of advice on cutting food waste is to recommending what he calls the Nigel Slater approach.

“We’ve gone off the rails when it comes to buying ready meals. “We need to do more cooking at home. It doesn’t take as much time as you’d think.

“They key is not to rely on a tick list, but to look in the fridge and think about the best way of using what you’ve got. It brings out your creative side. That makes it very rewarding.”