Two stories, both of them true.
Someone I know will, on the 10th of the month, buy a ready meal with a sell-by date of the 20th, pop it in the freezer for later, and then take it out on the 21st. And, because it’s a day past its date – even though it’s been safely frozen since the day she bought it – she’ll bin it.
Another woman was complaining to me one day that the meat at her local supermarket was rubbish. I pointed out that, to get to the supermarket, she had to drive past one of the county’s finest butchers. “Oh, I couldn’t shop there,” she said. “Too hardcore. I like it to be packed in those trays with a little drip mat, so you can’t tell it was once an animal.”
One of these women is in her 70s, the other in her 30s. They live at opposite sides of the country, come from very different backgrounds, and have fiercely opposing political views. What links them is the sheer lunacy of their attitude to food.
Both are also kind of heart, and compassionate to a fault. Show them pictures of a starving child in Somalia, and they’d be in pieces.
And yet they can see no correlation between their behaviour, and what’s happening in Africa at the moment. Their stupidity – and yes, I like both of them, but their behaviour is, frankly, nothing but stupid – is contributing, in a tiny but cumulative way, to famine in the third world, to global warming, to the collapse of the world economy. So utterly in thrall are they to the profiteering big boys – the global food corporations, the manufacturers, the major supermarkets – that they’ve lost all common sense.
If you’re reading this, I think I can safely make certain assumptions about you. You have a computer – or at least access to the internet – and you enjoy food, seeing it as more than just fuel. Which means that, like me, you’re probably an active member of one of the most privileged, healthy and wealthy societies the world has ever seen.
And it’s time for us to step up to the plate, if we want things to get better for those people in Africa, for our children and also for ourselves. Tiny, baby steps will help. Don’t buy ready meals – if you can’t cook, there are dozens of books and websites our there that will give you simple, easy, quick recipes. Nigel Slater’s Real Fast Food is a perfect place to start.
Don’t trust sell-by dates – trust your instincts. Grow your own, wherever you can. Try not to eat processed food. Use up leftovers. Blah, blah, blah. Really, I don’t need to tell you this stuff – you know the drill.