Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Skipping (revisited)

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, only my self-imposed hiatus intervened. It wasn’t until after I posted my flash piece ‘Skippers’, it occurred to me not everyone might know what I was talking about. But luckily everyone who commented either here, or over on ‘facebook’ had heard of ‘skipping’ or ‘dumpster diving’ as it’s called in the US, and yes, you were right, I had been watching ‘Cherry’s Cash Dilemmas’ in which the presenter, Cherry Healey, went out foraging with a dedicated ‘Skipper’.

I watched that programme a few times, out of a mixture of awe and disgust. Having worked extensively in the catering industry, it goes against the grain for me to consider eating out of rubbish bags, but at statistics like £14million worth of food being thrown away by shops each year, the skippers, or ‘Freegans’ as they call themselves, seem the sane ones here. If you pop over to their website, you can read their philosophy. And it all sounds so sensible, my children have spent weeks trembling at the thought I might insist upon us raiding a few skips ourselves. They are relieved when it’s time to go ‘chez papa’; he prefers expensive farm shops and doesn’t entertain wild notions about righting societal wrongs. As one ‘facebook’ comment said though, it does make you wonder why on earth leftover food isn’t automatically given to homeless shelters. Madness indeed.

Anyway, my Tai Chi teacher has a favourite saying, and this is it:

"To change the world, you must first change yourself."

I’ve been thinking about this a lot ever since I saw a report on the BBC’s ‘Countryfile’ programme about how the average household wastes so much food, it makes supermarkets and food retailer’s efforts look like a mere pebble tossed into a very large ocean. So instead of being self-righteous about what shops ought to do, perhaps I should examine my own habits.

And it’s true: I do waste a lot of food. Okay, maybe not that much because our hens obligingly turn leftovers into eggs, but still rather a lot. I’ve been watching what I do, and here’s what I’ve come up with.

1. Things that come in large packets turn mouldy before I can use them. Prime example here is soya milk. I pour cartons and cartons of the stuff down the sink. Now soya milk is vile, but youngest son is on a dairy and gluten free diet, and it’s handy for cooking. But it comes in litre cartons, and goes off before I can use it up. It is possible to get smaller cartons, but they’re like gold dust.

2. Fresh fruit and veg. Yes, so I compost what I don’t use, but I buy too much in the first place. Doesn’t matter whether it’s a farm shop or the supermarket, I lose all sense of reason when faced with a display of fruit and vegetables. I’ll make this, this and that, I’ll think. But I won’t. And it’s worse if I’ve been watching Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and his divine River Cottage, because then I’ll buy weird stuff that I don’t even know how to use, like the salsify root mouldering at the bottom of my fridge. Let’s just say it’s been there a while.

3. Pre-packaged fruit. This is like a combination of points 1 and 2, but how many times do I fall for the supermarket’s ‘two punnets for a pound’ scam, only to chuck the fruit in the compost bin two days later when no one wants the squashy berries. Yes I could make smoothies. No I don’t.

And whilst I’m at it, why don’t supermarkets have huge bins to collect the plastic trays this stuff comes in? Youngest child loves strawberries, but even from the strawberry farm they come in a plastic pot, and there’s only so many uses you can invent for them before you have too many. Our local council doesn’t recycle them either, so, much against my principles, it’s into the bin they go. Such a waste.

4. Preparing too much food. This is a real bugbear of mine. You’d think after so many years of cooking for one woman and two kids, one of whom has a smaller appetite than the tiniest bird, I’d have sussed out how much to make, but I regularly make too much. Most of the time this is okay; I either freeze the leftovers, or feed them to the chickens But if it won’t freeze, it winds up in the bin. Maybe I should be thinking about setting up my own homeless soup kitchen.

Providing we don’t actually manage to make ourselves extinct, I think history will look back our ‘throwaway’ mentality with incredulity. I do often think, when I’m tipping an over-ripe melon, or squishy strawberries into the composting bin, I wouldn’t take the financial equivalent, coins or notes, and throw them away. I wouldn’t put a fiver in the bin, so why am I doing it with food?

To change the world, you must first change yourself. It’s going to be a long and arduous task.

Do you have any thoughts on this issue, or tips to share? Do leave a comment and let me know what you think....


  1. I certainly don't have any tips, my household is just as bad. And worse, I find I'm becoming lax about recycling which I must stop. I find myself looking at the overflowing recycling bag and rather than finding another bag, I'll chuck the whatever in the bin. I don't know why I've changed as I used to be quite militant about it. Must. Do. Better.

  2. Hi Clare! My kids drive me nuts, I know they learn about recycling at school, I've sat watching plays they've put on in school assemblies, but they put everything in the bin rather than the recycling box, and surely, surely they should know better!!!


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