It is gradually creeping into the public awareness that supermarkets contribute to the food waste of their customers – the food that you and I dispose of at home, uneaten. I’m not even talking about the food that is wasted by supermarkets themselves – that is a subject for another post.
We are all responsible for our own personal consumption and surely it is laughable to suggest that supermarkets are forcing us to buy things that we don’t want or need? One of the reasons many of us find the supermarket so attractive (and so hard to give up) is that we care about how much money we spend and aim to part with as little of it as possible. I, for one, have generally perceived the supermarket as one of the most inexpensive shopping options around in modern Britain.
I however, am a waster too. I recently directed you to this post where I did a cupboard audit in my kitchen and found lots of things I’d bought and not used. Despite that post having been written in September (giving me plenty of time to improve), despite the fact that I blogged daily about food waste for Zero Waste Week and despite the reality that I am consciously trying to improve, I do still throw some food out uneaten.
I’m not directly blaming supermarkets. I do accept that the ultimate responsibility for my food waste lies with me, but I know I have to be vigilant in the supermarket to ensure that I don’t become vulnerable to buying things that they would like me to buy but that I don’t need.
My biggest weaknesses are probably:
• Impulse buys: these are the items that that I see as a treat but that weren’t on my list. Plus I say no to several things that my children request and then often give in to something small. We usually come home with a handful of luxury items like kids crisps, a new kind of biscuit or novelty processed food-stuff that is trying to pass itself off as cheese. These lead to waste because, while the new things get eaten, the food we have already wilts sadly in our kitchen.
• Multi-buys: I like to think I am quite hard when it comes to shunning multi-buys. I try to concentrate on what it is I need and tell myself I’d have wasted the extra money if I bought the second (or more!) item being pushed on me. However, it can take a will of steel to resist them because it’s tempting to feel you’re missing out on something free if you pass over a multi-buy. Sadly I don’t always have that will of steel when I’m in a rush or am giving my attention to the children.
• Vouchers: I’ll admit I’m uneasy about loyalty cards as I know that while you might make monetary savings by using them, the price you pay is your own privacy. Loyalty cards give supermarkets a lot of information about what you buy and therefore hint strongly about your gender, age group, income level. Despite all of this (I’m beginning to hate myself a little as I write!) I do sometimes feel I should use the vouchers that they send me, based on the information the loyalty card has collected. I am sometimes tempted to buy things that I don’t really need because they are marketed as a bargain – and the expiry date on the vouchers just add more pressure!
• Car parking: Because the supermarkets I use are served by huge car parks, I never stop twice to ask myself if I really need something because it’s heavy to carry. Shopping locally, I’ve already put a few things back because, faced with carting them home in a backpack, I realise I can do without them.
Happily I am released from these stresses for the whole of Lent and having just written the above, I can tell you that I am feeling relieved to have a break!
Since Lent started on Wednesday, I am very much finding my feet again with the local shops and as a result the stocks of my usual food staples are running low! I’ve been forced to get creative with the things I already have in the cupboard…
One of the first things we ran out of was raisins which we have in porridge. I remembered that I had a pack of dried cranberries somewhere (possibly I recalled this because the very same packet was listed in the September cupboard audit…). We used these instead of the raisins and the children enjoyed the novelty of something new. Then these ran out and I found some fruit and seed ‘sprinkles’ that I had bought several months ago and never opened. They loved these even more! I have a little basket full similar impulse buys so I think we’ll get through the rest of the week without raisins and maybe we’ll keep trying new things as they’ve brightened up the first meal of the day.
Another staple always in the fridge is plain yogurt which often serves as pudding . (Are you wondering how I get away with this? Me too – my kids love it!) I looked for an alternative and found a bag of popcorn left over from Christmas time. We popped it in the pan and then shared a big bowl – it was definitely more interesting than the yogurt which we’d have had if I’d still been using the supermarket…
I finished a box of porridge oats this morning and noticed a recipe for flapjacks on the back that I can make easily and quickly from stuff I’ve already got in the cupboards.
Plus there’s a type of cabbage in my veg box that I’ve had before and never worked out how to use but, we’ve been searching for recipes and we will make it into a dish that we can freeze! When last-minute supermarket shopping is no longer an option, suddenly food seems more valuable.
Four days into Lent, and I am already thinking of food differently. I feel that by ditching the supermarket I am paying much more attention to what I’m buying and how I’m using it.
If you are interested in reducing your food waste (or any waste), then do check out http://www.zerowasteweek.co.uk/ and especially look the blog which has just been declared the Guardian Live Better Blog of the week!