Cutting down on food waste is good for the planet - and your waist

Judith Wills / 18 February 2020

Diet expert Judith Wills takes a look at how cutting down on food waste is not just better for the planet, it's also a much healthier attitude for your diet.



Food for thought. £19 billion’s worth of food is wasted every year in the UK, according to the latest research published by WRAP (the Waste and Resources Action Programme – a long-established organisation used by the government). That equates, they say, to £730 of thrown-out food a year for every family in this country.

This waste is of course a big issue for the health of the planet. Most of us are now aware that producing enough food to feed everyone across the globe is causing widespread destruction of natural forests and wildlife, and increasing global warming.

As Chris Packham pointed out so well in his recent TV documentary 7.7 Billion People and Counting, the world population is shooting up faster than ever before. And we all need feeding. So every bit of food that is left in the fridge to rot, or tipped from our plates into the bin, or bought on a whim and not used, is a problem.

But thinking about this got me to thinking on a wider level about how we can help to prevent food waste and, at the same time, help improve the health of our population.

For any of us who want to shed some weight and find sticking to any weight loss plan difficult, maybe it’s time to look at the subject of food waste again from another angle.

Just think of how the role of food in our lives has changed since civilisation began. For much of humanity’s time here on the earth, we ate to live – foraged and hunted for food, were thankful when we found it and if we didn’t, went hungry.

Then we learnt to farm and so began the slow, and then increasingly rapid, change into a world of plenty. In the UK over the past 60 years or so, food has become so readily available and comparatively cheap that our concept of eating has changed from ‘what we do to survive’ – as recently as WW2 with its shortages and rationing this was our necessary attitude – to ‘our favourite leisure occupation/habit/way to relax/spend time’. And the same applies to all the developed and fast developing nations of the world.

No wonder that now, for the first time since records began, more people in the world are overweight than underweight. The worldwide prevalence of obesity nearly tripled between 1975 and 2016, according to the World Health Organisation. And no wonder that around two-thirds of adults in the UK are officially overweight or obese, with weight problems a major risk factor for virtually all of the leading diseases of today.

And, returning to the subject of food waste, I got to realising that it isn’t just the food that goes in the bin that is a waste – it is also what we buy, and eat, but don’t actually need, that is probably even more of a problem. All those surplus calories are not only making us fat, but using up world resources for no good reason.

I know I’ve been eating a lot of stuff recently that I didn’t need, either for sustenance or nutrition, but that I ate ‘because it was there’ (mostly left over from the festive season - mince pies, chocolates, cake, even a pack of marzipan. My automatic mantra was ‘eat it, don’t waste it’ – so it’s now residing in my stomach fat (5lbs heavier since early December). But how much better if I’d never bought it in the first place. Saving money, saving food, helping to save the planet in my own small way, that would have been a better idea. Instead, the food waste is on my waist and belly, not in the bin.

It’s not just the festive season, either – every time we go in a supermarket packed to the ceiling with every type of food we could imagine, and special offers, and bargain counters – we buy – of course we buy – more than we intended, and more than we need to sustain a healthy body and a healthy weight. I would say we almost all do that. And then we eat it, ‘because it’s there’ (and for all those other non-actual hunger reasons listed above).

And then we put on weight, and then we may get ill because of our weight, and then we use even more resources (via the NHS) to try to get well.

Top tips for cutting down on food waste

So now I’m doing a weekly menu for lunches and suppers, which really helps to reduce random buying and wasted food, writing a shopping list, and sticking to it. (Online shopping helps in that respect.) I’m also going to avoid the classic high-fat, high-sugar, low nutrient (apart from calories) and usually highly-wrapped items too, such as chocs, biscuits, cakes, puddings and other highly-processed things that, with the best will in the world, I don’t need, and in fact, don’t want either.

And I am also doing the other time-honoured tricks of serving smaller portions of everything except greens (and often making double quantities to freeze the spares). All these ways to keep an eye on one’s weight easily are also helping the planet every day. And it’s so easy!

I’m also working on ways to see friends and enjoy leisure time without food being on the agenda. More of that in the next blog.

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