As the festive season was approaching the end, I couldn’t help but notice how public discourses were quickly shifting from sharing inspirational cooking ideas and recipes to tips and advice on what to do with large quantities of leftovers almost every UK family faces on Boxing Day. This prompted me to think about yet another aspect of the food wastage problem – the festive food waste.
Facts and figures are startling. “Love Food Hate Waste” campaign led by WRAP reveals that the amount of food thrown away in the UK increases by astounding 80% during the Christmas period reaching a startling 230.000 tonnes. It is estimated that Christmas celebrations result in as much as £1 billion worth of food being dumped on an annual basis (Harris, 2012). Not just quantity, the quality of throw-away food changes – if fresh food, vegetables, salad and bakery products usually lead the wastage chart (Harris, 2012), festive treats and special occasion foods often end up in household dustbins during the holiday season. In the US, the amount of food waste triples in the period between the Thanksgiving and New Year (The WorldWatch Institute, 2011). To spotlight just some of the destructive economic, environmental and social impact of such squandering: researchers from the University of Manchester have estimated the cumulative carbon footprint of annual Christmas meals in the UK alone to equal that of 6000 round-the-world trips by car (Harris, 2012).
Other cultural regions of the world also do not seem to evade the problem. In India, food wastage during celebrations has reached a level at which the authorities started considering developing special policy guidelines to address the issue. A government-commissioned report (IIPA, 2012) revealed that up to 25% of food served at social functions finds itself in dustbins. Public education and awareness campaigns are suggested as the best ways to address the problem. However, other countries do not shun strict legislative controls – the so-called One Dish Order was introduced in Pakistan back in 2003 to prevent food wastage by limiting the number of main dishes that can be served at a social event to just one. In Muslim countries such laws are rooted in the Islamic prescriptions to avoid ostentatious consumption and wastage of food. Yet, this video (Al Jazeera English, 2011) exposes vast quantities of food ending up in bin bags after each Iftaar meal during the Muslim month of fasting – Ramadan. A striking fact – 15% more (!) food than usual is being prepared in the kitchen of a luxury restaurant in Doha during the fast. At the same time, nearly 2000 tonnes of food was wasted during Ramadan of 2010 in just once city, Dubai.
The magnitude of the problem explains the rapidly growing number of public campaigns and initiatives (e.g. Love Food Hate Waste; Think Eat Save) for the reduction of both household and industry food waste. Government authorities do not lag behind – I have been pleasantly surprised to discover that many UK council websites offer festive waste reduction tips and advice. One can only hope that as public awareness grows, less and less of some 10 million turkeys, 25 million Christmas puddings and 370 million mince pies that are brought to the UK households during the Christmas period (Pool, 2012) will end up in landfills.
Al Jazeera English (2011, August 29). Gulf states Ramadan food wastage criticised. Retrieved January 2, 2014, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FCsou6xNiXE
Harris, M. (2011). This festive waste. Engineering & Technology, 6(12), 30-33.
Indian Institute of Public Administration, The Centre for Consumer Studies (2012). Assessment of Wastage of Food and Ostentatious Behaviour during Social Gathering (Marriages/Parties/Meetings etc). Department of Consumer Affairs, Government of India. [Online] Accessed January 1, 2014. Available from http://consumeraffairs.nic.in/consumer/sites/default/files/userfiles/Assessment%20of%20Wastage%20of%20Food%20and%20Ostentatious%20Behaviour%20dur(1).pdf
Pool, R. (2012). The nightmare after Christmas. Engineering & Technology,6(12), 38-41.
WorldWatch Institute (2011). Reducing Food Waste During the Holiday Season [Online] Accessed on 2 January, 2014. Available at http://www.worldwatch.org/reducing-food-waste-during-holiday-season