We all do it; notice a speck of mould on a slice of bread and throw out the whole loaf, or wrap that leftover slice of pizza in cling-film and shove it to the back of the fridge, then instantly forget we have and leave it in a festering state for weeks, or even pour a carton of milk down the sink because it was one day past the use-by date. These seemingly insignificant situations occur every day in the average student’s kitchen, and indeed they did in mine, until one day I reached a realisation. Strangely, this realisation took place deep in my dim past, whilst working an evening shift at my local Co-Op.
It just so happened to be, as it often was, my turn to dispose of the food waste that had accumulated during the day. Whilst staring at the tottering piles of chicken breasts, rump steaks and pork chops that had reached their ‘display until’ date, I began to mentally calculate just how many animal lives I was about to hurl into the waste skip. And I decided I wasn’t really happy with doing so. It was at that moment that I made the (many have said stupid) decision to become a vegetarian. Ever since that terrible night at the Co-Op, I have been fighting my own internal, moral battle against my carnivorous urges and so far I have been winning. It is not that I expect my withdrawal from the meat industry to make any kind of difference to the unbelievable amount of daily food waste in the UK, it is that I simply don’t want to be involved with it.
However, after stumbling across the statistic that as a nation, we throw away 8.3 million tonnes of food every year, most of which could have been eaten, I feel that my passive approach is not enough. Instead of removing ourselves from the situation, there must be something active we can do to reduce this figure. It is shocking to learn that if we made use of all the edible food that we currently dispose of, it would have the same environmental impact as removing 1 in 4 cars from UK roads. So why is it that we simply can’t bear to eat that yoghurt that looks fine, but ‘went off’ yesterday, and are willing to see it go to waste?
The main reason seems to be that we simply buy or cook too much in the first place. I’m sure we all, myself included, are guilty of shoving too much pasta into a pan and having to chisel off and throw out the rubbery remnants in the morning/three weeks later whilst doing the washing up. This can easily be remedied by using those forgotten, dusty scales that live under the sink, so as to cook the actual amount needed. Another situation I find myself in all too regularly, is that I have managed to misjudge my yoghurt/cheese/quorn/fruit consumption for the week and am left with mouldering collections of food in the distant corners of the fridge.
So we can see that really thinking about how much food we are likely to eat and buying less initially is a great first step to reducing our waste and also our expenditure, something the average student will be very interested in. Waste can also be greatly reduced by simply using things we would otherwise overlook. Some of the best meals my flatmates and I have made have come from desperate cupboard rummaging and being forced to use that lonely tin of kidney beans right at the back because Sainsbury’s is shut.
This way of cooking is being pioneered within the Southampton Uni community by a new organisation called ‘Student Kitchen’. Run by volunteers, this kitchen uses food that would otherwise have been wasted by supermarkets to produce hearty meals for hungry students, and is currently in negotiation for the opening date. If we’re honest, it is about time we all follow suit and do our bit for the environment by reducing our food waste, and this is one of the easiest ways to get involved. So next time you see today’s date on the milk carton, maybe smell it and judge for yourself before pouring it down the sink. Or next time you find nothing of interest in the fridge and reach for the phone to call Domino’s, have a rummage in the depths of the cupboard. After all, you never know what you might find…
Look out for the Student Kitchen, opening soon.