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Food waste? don’t let celebrity chefs play the blame game

20 Sep 2011

The cooking styles promoted by celebrity chefs are unlikely to cut Britain’s 8.3 million tonnes of household food waste, according to a new study.

Sociologist Dr David Evans, from The Sustainable Consumption Institute at the University of Manchester, says the pressure to cook meals from scratch using fresh ingredients while enjoying a variety of dishes throughout the week can actually lead to waste.

His qualitative study – in which he went into the homes of 19 Manchester households – helps explain why Britain throws away enough food each year to fill Wembley stadium ten times over.

Over eight months Dr Evans, whose research will be published later this year, observed people preparing, cooking and shopping for food - even asking them to talk through the contents of their fridges, freezers and cupboards.

He said: “All too often, consumers are blamed for not knowing how to cook or simply not caring about the food that they waste. I encountered nothing in my study to suggest that this is the case.”

According to Dr Evans, people are not lacking in knowledge about food and cooking. But it is, he says, important to recognise it is sometimes hard to find a use for leftovers, especially when trying to feed a family of fussy eaters who prefer tried and tested recipes to improvised concoctions.

Current levels of food waste, he argues, should be viewed as the fall-out of households negotiating the complex and contradictory demands of their day-to-day lives.

For example the pressure to cook and eat in the ways that celebrity chefs advise means that a lot of food is already at risk of getting thrown out.

He said: “A lot of so-called proper food is perishable and so needs to be eaten within a pretty narrow timeframe. Our erratic working hours and leisure schedules make it hard to keep on top of the food that we have in our fridges and cupboards.

“It is perfectly understandable that people might forget or be too tired to cook the food that they have at home and so end up going for a takeaway and throwing out the food they had already purchased.”

People with influence – like celebrity chefs – he says, should acknowledge these issues and think about ways of making it socially acceptable or even desirable for us to eat the same meal several nights in a row or use frozen vegetables.

He added: “I know that Delia came in for some flak when she updated her ‘how to cheat at cooking’ book a few years ago. And yet this so-called cheating is exactly the sort of thing that might help to reduce household food waste.

“It would of course be foolish to ignore nutritional considerations, but either way, it is worth noting that people will not reap the benefits of healthy food if they end up throwing it away.”

Waste, argues Dr Evans is obviously a problem but we need to tackle it differently and not lay the blame at the door of consumers.