Thursday, May 08, 2008

Food for Thought?

The front page of the Independent (pictured) has amused me greatly. It makes the point that there is a global food shortage and Britain throws away loads of fresh food every day - the headline being 'What A Waste! The Scandal of our Throwaway Society'.

If you're wondering why this caused such merriment at such an early hour it's because I just couldn't help flipping the point over in my head and pondering on what the Indy headline would be if we were not throwing away the fresh food and eating it instead?

'Botchulism Britain - The Scandal of a Society Poisoning Itself' perhaps? 'The Out-of-Date British Way of Life - How Britain is slowly eating itself to death' maybe? What about 'Supermarket Salmonella Sweep - How the food retail giants force us to eat off food by hiking prices '?

You get the point I hope. Yes, we throwaway a lot of food each day. However, that's because firstly shops have no choice if the 'Use By' date passes. They cannot legally sell it. They can't even give it away to charity, and let's be honest, if they did, a paper like the Independent would lead on 'Helping the Homeless? - Scandal of supermarket giants that poision the soup kitchen'.

The second, and more individualistic reason we throw so much away is because of that little 'Use By' date again. We have been so infantilised by state regulation that most people just read the date, check the calendar, then chuck it. Having the knowledge to know when something is 'on the turn' or, when something will be OK if you cook it properly has been lost to lives indirectly and unconsciously ruled by regulations.

Some years ago we just had 'Best Before'. That essentially put out the message 'you should eat this before this date but if you eat it afterwards that's your choice and we're not responsibile for it if you get ill'. When they introduced 'Use By', which is an order rather than an advisory note, we deferred responsibilty of that decision to eat to the regulation itself that brought the labelling requirement in.

Ironically it was a regulation brought in, as ever, to protect the public in the great paternal/nanny state. The consequence being that those who would no doubt vehmently oppose the repealing of 'Use By' on health and safety grounds, now find themselves moaning that we all follow the instructions and chuck the stuff away so we don't potentially get ill.

Frankly this is the best example of the Law of Unitended Consequence I've ever seen.


Anonymous said...

Seems a bit sad that people can't tell if something's off. Most foods change colour or smell when they go bad. Damn nature imbued us with some (and I emphasise some) sense about what is safe for us.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely correct and a good post.

My teenaged children have no idea of the concept of food going 'bad' - they would be lost without the date, and they think that eating fresh eggs, after the date printed on the egg, is extremely dangerous!

CROWN said...

I tend to ignore use by dates and work on the basis that if it smell and looks Ok then it is OK.

However it is all I can do to stop my wife throwing out bananas that are slightly black on the outside. I have been known to pick one out of the recycling bin and eat it, much to the horror of the kids and even the dog.

Anonymous said...

We could save trees by banning publication of the Daily Woe Woe and Thrice Woe

Anonymous said...

Use By dates are one of my pet bug-bears. From a shopkeeping family I know that tins of fruit and stuff used to have a shelf life of literally years, that was the whole frigging point of tinning stuff for fucks sake.

Now look, buy a tin of beans or soup or something and you have to (well you are ordered by the 'use by' date) use it by this autumn. Fucking ludicrous!


Heresiarch said...

The "anonymous" whose teenage children have no concept of food "going off" clearly hasn't been doing much to teach them. It's not good enough simply to blame the existence of these date-stamps and then complain that we're being infantilised by them. Just don't be infantilised. Use your nose.

They even put use-by dates on salt. Salt! It's a mineral, it will happily keep fresh for millions of years. Madness.

It's a bit like telling pregnant women they can't have a sip of wine, for fear that some won't be able to tell the difference between the odd glass and a 4-hour binge on vodka. The only way to cope with these people is to ignore them. After all, the government is quite happy to ignore scientific advice about cannabis, so why should the rest of us feel obliged to take any notice?

Anonymous said...

"...most people just read the date, check the calendar, then chuck it."

Not me! I check it, use my sense of smell and taste, and cook it properly (adjusting for my own over rather than blindly following the packet guide) and I'm still here.

Anonymous said...

I remember (back in the day) when mother picked small bits of mold off of a slice of bread and then stuck it in the toaster.

Anonymous said...

I argue in my own post on the matter that we make poor choices despite being told what to do by nanny. There was an interesting debate on 5 Live this morning involving people who eat out of other folks bins!

Anonymous said...

And then of course we are told to eat five types of fresh fruit/vegetable per day- I wonder how much of the problem is caused by this being bought for a family that doesn't in fact want to eat it?


Anonymous said...

You've just summed up my view on journalists- always complaining, no solutions.

Anonymous said...

Incidentally, I note that this report has been compiled by WRAP.

Wasn't that the same organisation that Tim Worstall tore apart on his blog for including banana/potato peel and teabags in a report as 'waste food'.

Wonder if they are doing it again for this one....?

Anonymous said...

Excellent post! These socialists won't be happy until we have to ask them for permission to have children ....

But where's the comedy classic line or reference??????

Anonymous said...

AFAIK 'best before' and 'use by' are part of the same system, not a recent escalation in nannying.

'Best before' is given for items that chemically degrade as they get old, like tinned/dried stuff.

'Use by' is applied to food that biologically degrades - ie when those few listeria particles have turned into a few billion.

I agree entirely that it's unnecessary regulation, however. AFAIK they don't have such nonsense in the U.S.

I daresay Euro leftists think that creating jobs for bureaucrats with unnecessary regulation is 'good for the economy'. Morons.

Unknown said...

Great stuff? And I wonder how many of today's younger generation know how to check if an egg is off or not? All you have to do is stick it in a bowl of water and if it floats, it's off. If it stands upright on the bottom, it's OK but not the freshest, and if it lies on its side then it's not ten minutes out of the hen's arse.

Anonymous said...

I remember a Food Programme edition on Worcestershire Sauce, they're legally obliged to put a use by date on the bottles, but apparently the stuff never goes off, it just matures, like whiskey.

John Pickworth said...

You know, I travel around Asia quite a bit... and I'll always choose to eat where (and what) the locals eat.

So picture this: Searing tropical heat, flies, wonky stand at the roadside, meat left hanging in the sun, bottles of propane, water jacked from a nearby mains, chef with fag hanging out of his mouth, no hat or apron. The UK Health and Hygiene people would have a fit here...

But you know what? I've never been ill (even slightly) and nor are the hundreds of people eating at the same roadside outlet everyday of their lives and neither are the hundreds of thousands eat elsewhere.

Now I'm not saying this 'third world' catering would suit everyones palete but you gotta ask yourself why it is that we with our dated food, fridges, freezers, boil-in-the-bag, timed cooking and anti-baterial surface cleaners are always falling ill?

Those of an older generation might also wonder why they didn't all die back in the days of pantries and absent food inspectors?

Strange world we live in, hey?

Anonymous said...

I read that headline as "Israel At 60, What a waste!".

Some might think so, I couldn't possibly comment!