Blame Game

Yesterday, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown fanned the food waste flames via comments to the media.

Brown, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, showed his financial stripes in saying that food waste was partly due to “unnecessary demand.”

If we are to get food prices down, we must also do more to deal with unnecessary demand, such as by all of us doing more to cut our food waste, which is costing the average household in Britain around £8 ($16) per by BuhSnarf

The response was swift and negative, as exemplified by this well-crafted column. Don’t blame supermarkets or so-called “bogof” (“buy-one-get-one-free”) promotions for food waste, grocers, shoppers and columnists retorted. ‘Mind your own business,’ bloggers wrote. (A common thread being the easy, effective pun of telling Brown to “bogof.”)

Let’s be clear: Deals that push shoppers to buy more food than they need are partly to blame for food waste. Yet that’s only a small part of the picture.

Still, it’s a bit odd for the Prime Minister of Britain to denounce a private-sector promotional tactic. It also makes him an easy target, as the people struggling to cope with rising food prices are the ones most likely to take advantage of the deal (without wasting food). And it wasn’t shrewd for Brown to scold supermarkets and citizens about waste and rising food prices as he was flying to a lavish G8 Summit with $395 (£200) per head, 8-course dinners.

All the media attention on “unnecessary demand,” however, absolves the main culprit–us. Sure, supermarkets could help reduce waste by not tempting us into buying more than we need, but we’re the ones deciding to buy two heads of lettuce for the price of one when we know we can’t finish one before it starts rotting.

To reduce food waste, it’d be more effective if everyone focused on the second part of Brown’s sentence: “All of us doing more to cut our food waste…”

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