Most of us find ourselves in a world of abundance so unimaginable that it goes by entirely unnoticed.
Giant supermarkets straddle landscapes, vast acres of floor space slurping up reams of electricity to chill and freeze perishables from across the globe. Heaving shelves of food, eroticised by flashy packaging and exoticised by the stark distances travelled, work to break our will and fill our baskets. While we dither over this aubergine or that, seek out Instagram-famous hot sauce and track down the micro kale that really defines us, millions of people go hungry the world over.
Arms groaning with full bags, we drop a couple of token tins into the food bank collection points on the way out, briefly feeling better about ourselves while scarcely reflecting on how these bottomless pits have become normalised and what they indicate about the hunger on our own doorstep.
the rubber hits the road when we look at what we can do as individuals to minimise our waste
The worst part is we’re not even eating all we gather, as food waste racks up £730 billion in economic losses globally per year. £20 billion worth is wasted in the UK alone, the average family throwing away £810 of food annually.
The good news for businesses is that every £1 invested in reducing food waste – achieved through creative approaches to stock management and purchasing practices, alongside clever repurposing of old and soon-to-be-out of date stock – results in up to a £14 return. While we should consider supporting businesses striving to make a difference, the rubber hits the road when we look at what we can do as individuals to minimise our waste.
How do we react as minimalists in this world? We could always eat less. In the UK we consume on average 50 per cent more calories than we realise, abundance working in tandem with our evolutionary drives, compelling us to overeat while comfortable lives inoculate us from the sudden calorific requirements needed to fight off invading tribes or outrun a hungry baboon.
We could go plant-based too, dropping the environmental impact of our consumption through the floor while saving up to 300 individual animal lives annually. Very few cows would care why exactly we aren’t eating them, and a collective effort to assuage the impact of climate change through a modest adjustment to our diets would go a long way towards filling the bellies of those most affected across the world.
Good options, but to really minimise our impact – and to take what can seem daunting first steps – requires critically reframing our relationship with food, embracing a circular economy and attempting at no less than the total elimination of food waste.
So shop realistically, use smaller portions, eat leftovers, compost scraps and use expiration dates as guides, not rules. Support businesses leading on change while avoiding clutter in at home fridges and pantries, and, more than ever, buy only what you need to survive and thrive. Remember too the simple advice of parents the world over, still ringing in our collective ears after all these years:
Clear your plate.