Waste not: want.

July 08, 2008 01:00

There's a superb piece by Carl Mortished in today's Times demolishing our increasingly embarrassing PM's latest nonsense:

Food waste and overindulgence is a sign of new wealth. It is no accident that America is afflicted by so many diseases connected with overeating. It is because so many Americans are recent immigrants. If you have been poor or you fear poverty, an abundance of food is comforting and a symbol of your newly acquired wealth. We shouldn't blame the overweight office cleaner with a fast-food addiction any more than we should blame the skinny woman who nibbles at her posh lunch. Both are food wasters, but they are a sign that Britain is rich.

In a market economy, it is not the ration coupon that determines our consumption but our ability to pay for excess. And, up until recently, we were in a position to pay for excess. In 1984, the average British household devoted 16 per cent of their spending on food. That figure now stands at 9 per cent.

When times are good, when borrowing is cheap, we divert expenditure from things we might need in the future to stuff we want now. We drink and eat too much and dine in restaurants. Today the opposite is happening. Money is tight and we are receiving price signals - use the car less frequently, shop at discount stores, forgo the Friday night blow-out at the Tandoori.

It is the market mechanism, not exhortation, that will stamp out food waste. Let's hope it won't last, so we can soon go back to being profligate. The notion that 'waste' is somehow a bad thing is one of those weird ideas that gets instilled in us with no basis in sense. Food is a product which is bought and sold. Its production is warped by subsidy and protectionism. But fundamentally, what I buy and then choose to do with it is no one else's concern. If I want to fill up my bath with strawberries and then jump in, most would think me bonkers, but it's no concern of theirs how I choose to spend my money. As for the idea that it's 'wasteful' - utter rot. One man's waste is another man's choice. I throw out apples when they are past it. So what if I bought two or three I didn't get round to eating or cooking with?

July 08, 2008 01:00

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