Parallel Lines: Could there be a relationship between Obesity and Food Waste?

Foodservice Footprint Fat-woman-in-fridge-200x300 Parallel Lines:  Could there be a relationship between Obesity and Food Waste? Comment Features  obesity and food industry obesity health Foodservice Footprint IMG_4638bw-150x150 Parallel Lines:  Could there be a relationship between Obesity and Food Waste? Comment Features  obesity and food industry obesity health








I hope I’m not overstepping my mandate here, but I cannot help but feel that the strong correlation between obesity and food waste just has to be faced.


According to the World Health Organisation, 400 million adults worldwide are obese; a figure it forecasts that is set to double in 10 years. It is a fairly staggering statistic when compared to another estimate that 17 people a minute die of hunger! Too much and too little – there has to be a distribution issue somewhere, but that’s another story.


There are many theories as to the origins of this obesity epidemic, if that is what it is. There is the school of thought that looks at regional clusters and identifies that the high fat diet maintained in these areas is cultural and derives from times when the main employment was industrial and very physical. The theory is that a high-fat, high-carb diet has been passed down the generations. That was fine yesteryear when the exertions of employment burned off the calories, but today typical employment in these areas, if any, no longer has the same levels of physicality.


Another theoretical cause, that of ‘Value Meals’, probably had its beginnings in America. Research by the American Restaurant Association in 1993 revealed that 70 per cent of restaurants surveyed indicated that their customers wanted more food for their money. With increasing numbers of people eating out of home, the Value Meal became the key promotional technique for both gaining market share and extracting a few more shillings from the punters’ pockets.


Burger chain McDonald’s was very keen on this and exported the technique to the UK and elsewhere as the ‘Extra Value Meal’, spawning a raft of ‘me too’ promotions from high street competitors, along the lines of “As much as you can eat for a fiver’ from many a mass market eatery. That well-worn phrase ‘your eyes are bigger than your tummy’ becomes increasingly inappropriate with the consumption of every sugar filled Value Meal!


A manifestation of this larger portion fad was the introduction of larger plates, glasses, mugs etc. all filled to capacity. Ironically, when the economy subsequently dictated that food operators cut portion sizes to reduce costs, the size of plates were reduced so that the customer perception was maintained of a plate piled high. The die was cast.


To both of these examples, there is added the post-War British attitude, innate to many of the population, that we should eat everything on our plates and that not to do so is not only bad manners, but offends the sensibilities of someone less fortunate, in another far distant part of the world, who, we were told, would gladly dine on our leftovers for a week.


A similar type of ‘value’ promotion can today be seen in supermarkets up and down the land in the guise of the BOGOF. Buy-one-get-one-free has long been a way of selling off excess stock, and recently we have seen a glut of these offers for pre- packed fruit and vegetables.


This appears to have coincided with the Government jumping onto the healthy eating bandwagon that has seen foodservice offer ‘healthy options’ for some years now. Their counter offensive to the obesity problem has included the concept of individuals consuming five portions

of fruit or vegetables a day; another well thought through idea that if taken up by the population as a whole would require more fertile acres than are available in the UK! Whoops, no room for bio fuel crop. And where are we going to put all those wind farms?


For a shopper confronted with a BOGOF on apples, say, the offer of an extra bag free plays on the ‘must have’ mental conditioning triggered by the perception of Extra Value, and also the ‘it’s fruit so it’s healthy and therefore I should have it’ feeling that justifies the unnecessary purchase. However, a week to 10 days later, it becomes apparent that two bags of eight apples is far more than will be eaten in the time allotted, that the increasingly woolly apples end up in the bin and, thereafter, in landfill.


Be it burgers or broccoli, pizza or potatoes, more food than we need means expansion in either waist line or landfill; generally both.


As an aside, we are told that a farmer producing for a supermarket forecasts that 30 per cent of his crop will be rejected for one reason or another. We are also told that 30 per cent of what we buy ends up in landfill. Assuming these two statistics are correct, this suggests that considerably less than half the food produced is actually eaten. It is rather poor state of affairs when you think of the estimated 80-odd people who have died of starvation whilst you have been reading this article.