In May, a grocery store and restaurant called ‘The Daily Table’ will open in Massachusetts, America. What is so special about it? Well, The Daily Table comes with a twist; all the food for sale will be past its sell by date.
If you had mentioned such a concept to me ten years ago, I would have felt sick just thinking about it. I was a hypochondriac when it came to food being ‘off’ or mouldy, refusing to drink the last quarter of a bottle of milk even if it still had three days left before it passed its use by date. But years later, after working in restaurant kitchens, I have U-turned completely. I will now happily eat food that is out of date, old and even a bit mouldy.
The world throws away an incredible amount of food, and we only have ourselves to blame. The statistics regarding food wastage speak for themselves: in 2012, 40% of all food was wasted, equalling almost $165 billion. During a time when every ten seconds a child dies from hunger, it is quite embarrassing that us westerners are binning food because of a silly little date stamp.
In Britain alone, we chuck away 4.2 tons of food and drink every year, with the average family throwing out about £60 of food every month. Such figures really do hit home just how much we are wasting. If food is truly unfit for human consumption then bin it by all means, better still, recycle it if possible. Sometimes, however, the food that never sees our plates but instead the inside of a black bin bag is actually suitable to consume.
I have been there, as I’m sure we all have: you find a piece of food a day over its use by date, and without thinking it goes in the bin. It may not taste so good, but chances are it’s probably fine to eat without causing any harm. We all seem to forget that before date stamps on food, people lived happily, judging whether something was okay to eat based on what it smelt and tasted like.
As students on a budget, can we really afford to be throwing food away because it is ‘out of date’ or past its ‘best before date’? The answer is no, we really can’t, not only is it ethically bad for the environment but it is bad for our pockets too.
But It’s not all doom and gloom. At our university, there are plenty of ways to eat healthily, cheaply and sustainably. Take for example SCOOP, an established non-profit student food co-operative. Their aim is to provide students with the opportunity to buy ethical, locally sourced food from locally based suppliers committed to recycling and ethical trading. From bags of rice, rainbow chard to organic free-range eggs, they have it all, and at a price that won’t break your budget. There are also edible gardens at the university; volunteers have given up their time to create on-campus allotment style gardens with vegetables ready for your consumption. With the glorious technology of the internet, recipes and how to videos are abundant. It’s time we taught ourselves how to cook ‘proper’ meals.
In the summer I worked in catering at several music festivals. At the last festival of the summer, I filled my rucksack with onions to take home. I then proceeded to leave them in a drawer in the kitchen and forgot about them. Last week I found them again, almost five months later. Granted, they were a bit dusty and had seen better days, but I gave them a little wash, peeled them and used them. They were absolutely fine and tasted lovely. I happily eat food which is past its sell by date: meat, fish, veg, almost anything, but I will always judge it beforehand. I’ve been fortunate to have worked in kitchens and understand that the food that is often served isn’t always day-fresh or even a few days fresh, but it still taste fine to eat.
We need to use our common sense when it comes to food; if that last slice of bread is glowing blue, then it probably should be in the bin. But if it looks or smells all right, fry it up.