For me it started with rice. You see, I’d grown up with only one type of rice. In my sheltered pre-university existence in a market town in rural Oxfordshire, other types seemed superfluous. Yet amidst all the excitement of each new university experience, I found food to be the one experience I got excited about most. So, with the obligatory Delia tome and a healthy Waitrose discount, I tried Thai-style seabass, venison in red wine, roast pigeon, monkfish wrapped in Parma ham, lentils, ewe’s milk cheese, tempura octopus and ready cooked & peeled quail’s eggs.
However, with the erratic schedule of a student there was one frustrating side effect: many of the delicacies I scavenged failed to make it to my mouth (including a heavily-discounted £2.36 fillet steak piece whose passing I still mourn). With society meetings, impromptu shopping trips and ‘just one more drink’, I often found myself away from the stove, or physically unable to stomach many of the items I’d so carefully selected.
This situation continued, to the detriment of my bank account, until I decided to better plan my meals. And find out how long you can freeze things for. But what I and many other students don’t realise is that the wasted money or the terrifying smells at the back of the fridge are far from the full story. In a UN-commissioned report published January 10th, it was revealed that 30% to 50% of the food produced around the world never makes it onto a plate. That represents 1.2 to 2 billion tonnes of food.
The UK is responsible for approximately 7.2 million tonnes of that total, and the impact is felt not just in our pockets or in the council’s waste disposal unit. Crucially, it represents a colossal waste of land, fertilisers, energy and the massive increase in CO2 emissions from all that decomposing produce. Each tonne of rotting food produces 4.5 times that weight in CO2 and the much more potent methane contributing to global warming. So that fillet steak I didn’t get around to eating? It would have used up 15,000 litres of water in its production.
While the blame variously rests with governments, producers, farmers and supermarkets, the buck stops with us: the consumer. We can all do our bit to prevent food wastage, even in our own poorly maintained student rentals. Let’s be receptive to supermarkets’ use of ‘ugly’ fruit and veg and purchase those above others. What’s more, let’s tell our MPs that we’re concerned about food wastage and urge them to raise and debate the issue in Parliament. It’s a global issue, but one that can and must be tackled by the individual - more than money and space is at stake.
The most shocking fact is that if all that food wasn’t wasted but redistributed, then over 1 billion people could be lifted out of food poverty. Tristram Stuart, author of Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal, said: "there are nearly a billion malnourished people in the world, but all of them could be lifted out of hunger with less than a quarter of the food wasted in Europe and North America.” The lives of millions could be nourished by our actions.
UNICEF launched its ‘Enough Food for Everyone IF’ campaign on January 23rd 2013. 1 in 8 people will go hungry tonight and every night until our governments tackle the root causes of food inequality. The four big IFs that contribute to this problem are Aid, Land, Tax and Transparency. IF we gave enough aid we could help people feed themselves. IF poor farmers weren’t forced off their land by governments and multinational companies they could feed their own families. IF stricter tax-dodging controls in poor countries and IF governments are transparent about how they keep the poor hungry then we could beat the global food crisis. But these big IF’s will only happen with pressure and support from us, the electorate. ‘IF’ represents over 100 organisations including OXFAM, Save the Children, Fair Trade, CAFOD and Comic Relief. It isn’t just another charity appeal: it’s a huge force of change and we can be the catalyst.
All of us can waste less food, by planning meals or switching to fair trade items next time you go shopping. Show your support by contacting your local MP, visiting www.enoughfoodif.org or join your local UNICEF on Campus at www.facebook.com/groups/GUUNICEF
GU UNICEF on Campus will be ‘Living Below the Line’ for a week, attempting to survive on £1 a day for food, as 1.4 billion people in the world do every day.
Please visit www.justgiving.com/GUUnicefOnCampus, or text GUIF50 to 70070 to donate £2.