AN AVERAGE American family of four, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, spends up to $2,275 on food annually. Since the 1970s, food wastage has increased by 50 percent in the US and food wastage has become the largest component of solid waste in the country’s landfills. Yes, it is primarily a first-world problem, but the rich in any continent aspire to that “good American life”.
In the UK, for example, about seven million tonnes of food is thrown away from homes every year, costing the average household £480 a year or £15,000- 24,000 over a lifetime.
Shockingly, £1 billion-worth of the food wasted annually in the UK is food still ‘in date’ and perfectly edible. If this quantity of food was not wasted, the savings in energy consumed in its production, packaging and transport would be the equivalent of taking 20 percent of cars off the road in the UK.
Aggressive marketing, including bulk discounts and ‘buy one get one free’ offers, encourages shoppers to buy large quantities in excess of their actual needs, which leads to substantial food wastage in homes. No wonder the European Union is considering a proposal to ban one-plus-one offers to discourage over-consumption and wastage.
It is in these so-called advanced and mature societies that the largest quantities of food are wasted at the consumer end of the chain. Nearly 30 percent of what is harvested from the field never actually reaches the supermarkets due to trimming, quality selection and failure to conform to purely cosmetic criteria such as shape, colour or size. The packaging could be slightly dented, one piece of fruit may be bad in an otherwise perfectly good bag of fruit, or it is thrown out in the warehouse because it had ripened too soon. Up to 30 percent of the UK’s vegetable crop is not harvested as a result of such practices.
While most Indians still buy their groceries from the neighbourhood kirana stores and mandis, our big cities are closer to America than we think. Consider the amount of food we order at restaurants and shy away from carrying doggie bags or the way restaurants or caterers order their supplies to avoid running out. In Mumbai, for example, leftovers collected by volunteers from one marriage party feed 70-80 people on an average.
This reflects a bizarre consumer (and retailer) behaviour in a country where every fourth person goes to sleep hungry. To explore if we get wasteful only on big occasions or when we eat out, TEHELKA resorts to researching trashbins in affluent Delhi neighbourhoods and homes. To get over the shock, we also visited a traditional Indian family in Pune that wastes almost nothing.