Thoughts on… Wasting food

09Sep10

As some of you may have noticed, I recently had a bit of a rant on our Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Town-Mill-Bakery/213293970927) about the August visitors (for some reason it only seems to happen in August) who think that it’s a lifestyle choice to just waste food or, in this particular case, left piles of uneaten crusts and bits of bread on their plates.

I have to apologise for the ‘rantiness’ of what I said because I could have put it better and maybe started a debate rather than encouraging people to rant back, but I’m not apologising for the sentiment expressed.
 
What I wanted to do was simply address the issue of waste when it comes to food. Here’s another good example…
 
Natalie, our chef, cook and mother to three children came in early this Saturday to make jam with hundreds of punnets of English strawberries that she’d bought the night before from her local Co-op superstore. They had one day left on their ‘sell by date’ and were reduced to 25p a punnet, so Natalie spent £150 on them and would have bought four times as many were it not for the fact that she had reached the limit on her credit card.
 
It’s highly likely that the rest of the strawberries she didn’t buy ended up in the supermarket’s skip, probably because of a sales promotion gone wrong and stock calculations mismanaged.
 
What a waste.
 
I know it’s a cliché, but this is where the butterfly wing effect happens. Work backwards from those hundreds of punnets of wasted strawberries, add the hundreds of others stores involved in the promotion and think about the energy used to heat the poly-tunnel, make the packaging, transport them from grower to market or to the distribution centre, then on to ALL the stores, and chill them on display. The transport cost, wages and time of all the people involved in the growing and the handling has simply been wasted.
 
Maybe it can’t be helped, but surely parts of it at least can be avoided?
 
Something that can be helped is not wasting the jam that Natalie makes for our breakfasts by smothering it on bits of bread or slices of toast that then don’t get eaten.
 
The modus operandi in our place is trust. When it comes to bread, we have a sign by the toaster that encourages people to have “as much as you like”. We rewrite it each day because it gets smudged, so the wording changes from time to time, but it has never said “all you can eat” because the former is an invitation, while the latter a challenge.
 
We also have another sign which explains how eating at Town Mill Bakery works. It tells you to:
Find somewhere to sit
Grab a wooden board [your plate]
Take what you want to eat
Order your hot drinks at the coffee machine
Remember what you’ve had
And pay when you’re leaving.
 
Again, a system based on mutual trust. We’re human beings and we like to treat our customers as human beings too. Our business is not a faceless corporate entity and we don’t view our customers as either cash cows or sacred ones.
 
We are also vigorous supporters of our local economy. We make just about everything in house that you’ll eat in all our restaurants – apart from the sugar, salt, milk, cheese and butter, pretty much – using local ingredients as much as possible. So, for example, we make jam rather than marmalade because oranges are not grown in England, let alone locally. Having said that, we do make peanut butter, but the importer – like our suppliers of seeds, nuts, olive oil, coffee and tea – is very local.
 
We also directly employ over 60 people and, indirectly, getting on for a thousand.
 
So my point is this: comments left in response to my rant about waste on Facebook, and others on mums.net, included a fair few in the early stages that said “He has a point”. However, they were soon drowned out by the ones saying “Get over it because we live in a Western capitalist, highly disposable country.”
 
It’s almost like people have resigned themselves to that as fact, and that it somehow allows them to be wasteful simply because they have paid for something.
 
We also live in a Christian country but it doesn’t mean you have to believe in a God.
 
We’re not saying we’re whiter than white, but there are people starving all over the world because they don’t have access to plentiful food supplies – like in Pakistan right now – or because they can’t afford enough food, like many families even in this country.
 
I just think that’s something we should bear in mind next time we’re leaving half of that second or third or fourth piece of bread loaded with jam that we didn’t really want in the first place but thought we’d have a go at just because it’s there and we felt entitled to take more than enough.

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6 Responses to “Thoughts on… Wasting food”

  1. 1 Mrs Morris

    Good point, well made. What would annoy me is not the fact that people (not just kids, but adults too) leave food that they don’t like, but rather that they take too much in the first place and then that’s why they end up leaving stuff. I think you have a right to be annoyed with people who come into your place, take too much food just because you invite them to take as much as they like, and then leave bits of it. Maybe this would have been better titled ‘Thoughts on Greed’, rather than Waste. I think some of the people ranting back at you on Facebook etc sound like what they are really trying to do is defend their own right to be greedy.

  2. 2 Tony H

    Clive, I entirely agree with you on waste, but disagree on the subject of marmalade. Why deny yourself this great pleasure because of a scruple about sourcing? It’s not as if the sugar you’re using is from local sources, is it? We get beautiful sevilles in our local market and it’s a crime not to use them. They’re grown by our European brothers and they’re not airfreighted, so what’s the problem?

    Next time we meet I’ll bring you a jar. And maybe, if I’m feeling very generous, a jar of my medlar jelly too.

  3. 4 Ellie

    Yes, and all you say is true, but I’m afraid your sanctimonious attitude is, and will continue, to put people, particularly families, off visiting your cafe. You come across as if you’re cooking for your family, with whom it’s more appropriate to lecture about the starving in Pakistan. But you own a business and are catering for the public, however friendly and informal the set-up, and in order to do this, I think you simply have to accept that a certain amount of wastage will happen, however lamentable. I’m not sure it’s either in your interests or even in your remit to address the moral side of this. I can’t imagine any professional catering outfit that would be able to do this successfully. I’d suggest that if you want to avoid a free-for-all with the toast, then stop offering it on these terms. Sadly, some people are always going to waste food if they pay a flat rate for it, and if this isn’t ok with you, then don’t help them to do so! I honestly think you need a thicker skin if you are going to make and sell food to the public.

    For the record, I make bread at home for my family and because it’s a labour-intensive, often tricky process to get right, I try to make sure every crumb goes unwasted. But then I’m not baking for the general public, and not charging for my services. 😉

  4. 5 Martha

    Dear Clive,
    I am new to your blog and facebook page but should tell you I was steered there by a very satisfied customer.
    I was appalled at the snarkiness on your facebook page, and by the customer’s odd defense of food waste. I’m a chef and one of the most discouraging things to see is a plate being cleared with food uneaten. Here in the States many buffet style cafes post a reminder sign to not take more food than one can eat and even use the words ‘don’t waste food’ on the sign. I daresay they are always busy so those that take offense at this don’t detract from the crowd enjoying the business.
    What a beautiful and inspiring website you have. I hope to visit in person soon.

  5. Boo to food waste, boo to the idea that it’s just the way it is and we don’t even have to try to change it. Hooray for trust and toast.

    On a separate issue I want to say something and ask something, first; I’m really chuffed to have found your blog, I am a Dorset girl moved East and it is one of my great pleasures to visit your bakeries whenever I come home. I wanted to ask….if a girl was planning a very small wedding for next summer and wanted to feed some family and friends could she place a kind of ‘enough nice stuff for 23 please’ type order with you for her to collect on the big (little) day? xx


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