Fur balls, plates and the planet

The Cast Stone

BLUEBERRY HILL Binned forgotten blueberries are just one element of the mountain of food waste we produce every year.

The Cast Stone
Michael Gallagher

It’s the little plastic packet of blueberries that gets me every time. Sauntering through the supermarket aisles, wondering what to purchase for the weekly shop, the blueberries always seem to catch my eye.
Immediately the brain clicks into gear – “They’d be perfect to throw on the porridge every morning,” it whispers, and within seconds the plastic packet is in my shopping basket. Sometimes I even throw in a second packet, just to be sure.
Fast-forward three or four days. My hectic life will have intervened and the idea of real breakfasts will have gone out the window. Instead, a myriad of morning madness will have diverted me into grabbing something on the run as the blueberries sit quietly in the fridge.
Invariably, at some stage during the week, when life slows down for a moment, I will decide to eat the blueberries, and on almost every occasion I will open the packet and be greeted by little balls of fur. The blueberries will be moving quickly towards a state of rot, and I will hurry their journey by transferring them to the bin.
This dance has been repeated in our house on innumerable occasions. Positive thoughts in supermarket aisles do not always gel with real-life in the Gallagher homestead, and food that was meant for the digestive system ends up in the back of a bin lorry.
You may wonder where this column is meandering towards, so let’s take a moment to think about food waste and the impact it has on the environment we all say we care so much about.
The National Waste Prevention Programme tells us the average Irish household throws out 150kg of food waste each year, which is 23-and-a-half stone in old money. This contributes to a national household wastage of 250,000 tonnes per annum.
Think about that for a moment. The blueberries I nonchalantly flick into the bin, the oversized meals that aren’t finished, the bread allowed to go stale and the many other aspects of kitchen life we take for granted all contribute to this mountain of food we throw away.
What impact does this have on our environment? We all hear about carbon emissions and how they must be cut back dramatically. A simple way of doing this would be the reduction of food waste, which is responsible for 8 percent of global emissions. However, the most frightening fact of all is that if the global population continues to grow at current rates and we don’t reduce food waste, we will need three planets to provide enough food by 2050.
We are quickly moving towards a disaster and most of us just keep buying the blueberries, forgetting about them and then chucking them in the bin. A little thought goes a long way.
It’s interesting to think about how food production and consumption has changed in just one generation. When I was a child we grew a lot of what we ate. We had a vegetable garden, a rhubarb patch, apple trees and blackberry bushes. We grew our own potatoes and had hens and geese wandering around.
Anything that wasn’t eaten by the humans in the household was given to the animals, and the thought of actually throwing away food was almost sinful. Over the years that has completely changed. Our vegetable garden has been replaced by a colourful aisle in the supermarket, and if we want rhubarb, apples or blackberries, we will find them on shelves very close to the aforementioned blueberries. Often wrapped in plastic.
No longer do we set potatoes and gather the neighbours every spring to pick the spuds. No longer have we deranged geese and more peaceful hens running around the place – instead we find them lying waiting for us in the refrigerated areas of the shops.
Life has changed a lot in a very short time. Now, we need to change too.
One simple way of doing this is proper portions on the plate. Amazingly, 38 percent of global food waste is uneaten food left on the plate and then thrown in the bin. This is a stark and frightening statistic. We must all take a moment to digest (pun intended) this fact. If we all just prepare the current quantity of food required then we can make a massive difference to our environment and consequently our planet.
Think about this column the next time those wily blueberries catch your eye in your local supermarket.