My top 10 food waste crimes (sorry, everyone)

We all want to reduce the amount of food we throw out, but binning some stuff is just unavoidable.

Cartoon of Tony Naylor emptying waste into a bin

Those of us who span the generations – our parents lived through post-war rationing, our kids are now eco-warriors – have spent a lifetime being berated about food waste. In the 1980s, we had to think about starving children in Africa (old joke: ‘But mum, they’d hate your liver and onions too’), while, today, our vegan offspring calculate the cost of every sausage to battered old planet Earth.

Worst of all, they’re right. And we know it. In the last decade, our attitude to food waste has changed dramatically. Whether you are ‘woke’ to the effects of global warming or merely keen to save money (the average family bins £60-worth of food a month), most of us are wasting less. According to the charity WRAP’s Love Food Hate Waste campaign (LFHW), annual UK food waste has fallen by £3.3 billion since 2007, equal in CO2 terms to taking 1.8 million cars off the road.

Yet even fastidious fridge-monitors are rarely zero waste. Collectively, we still bin a shameful 19% of the food we buy. You will have your flaws. Here are 10 I am still struggling to eradicate at Naylor Towers.


1. Rice vice

I defy anyone to cook precisely the right amount of rice (75g per person according to LFHW… who knew?), which – because of the food poisoning risk from Bacillus cereus bacteria – you must chill straight away after it’s cooled, reheat and eat within 24 hours. Fundamentally, cooking rice guarantees waste.

Bowl of rice


2. Fridge squidge

There is always a rogue half cucumber turning sludgy in the bottom of your veg drawer. It is inevitable. See also: shrivelled lemons, wizened ginger etc.


3. Sink drink

It’s late. Faculties are a little impaired by alcohol. A second bottle of wine is opened. But not finished. Two days later, you return to this now flabby drop and pour it down the drain. Sorry!


4. Crust dust

Bread is one of the world’s most wasted products (stale slices, crusts, mouldy forgotten half-loaves etc.) You say: recycle it into bread and butter pudding. I say: nice try, but I hate the stuff.


5. Wild child

Babies and toddlers will sometimes flat-out refuse to eat. Legal note: you cannot forcefeed the baffling halfwits. Even to save the planet.


6. Name shame

I imagine everything in your freezer is carefully labelled and dated. Mine? Not so much. It is more of a black hole of random bags and plastic containers which, when you defrost chilli instead of ragu, will, inevitably, lead to the occasional guiltily binned dinner.

Shelf of freezer with bags of food


7. Scrap rap

The freezer is also a repository for various odds ’n’ ends (herbs, parmesan rinds, tiny pots of stock and sauces), that I 100% sincerely intend to use… right up until the annual defrosting cull.


8. Bag lag

Bought in an emergency, I will rotate a stash of cheap corner shop teabags to the bottom of the tea caddy for 12 months, before I, finally, accept it: I am a tea snob. It’s time to bin those bargain bags.


9. Pud thud

Do I occasionally chuck a family dessert to stop me eating the leftovers? Guilty! I justify it in the money I will save the NHS by not developing Type 2 diabetes. But, really, we all need to learn to buy smaller portions and potentially go without… a bit. We buy more than we need out of greed or a craving for security, and it builds in waste. 


10. Fruit shoot

So much imported fruit (another bad habit!) goes straight from rock-hard to sloppily overripe in a heartbeat. I still try to eat it. But, realistically, how many random smoothies and/or banana bread does one family need?

Mango and banana smoothie

Read more articles by Tony Naylor...

10 unforgivable kitchen crimes
What have they done to our chocolate?
Maximum pleasure, minimum pennies
My 10 restaurant rules for New Year
Is this the future of food?
Save our Great British curry houses


Tony Naylor writes for Restaurant magazine and The Guardian

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