Will streamlined shopping during the virus outbreak alter our approach to food waste?

Back in March, even before lockdown was announced, panic buying was rife. It started out as an assault on loo roll and hand sanitiser but before we knew it, eggs, soap and tinned food, (to name a few), became as precious as gold dust.

The rumour mill was in full swing and talk of forthcoming restrictions on our movements led some into a buying frenzy. Even those who chastised the panic buyers, felt the need to pop to their local shop ‘just in case’. The result was a serious shortage of basic items, the likes of which had never been seen before. But now that shelves are stocked again and most items, maybe with exception of that converted cake ingredient, are fully available, will we become less obsessed with consumption and potentially less wasteful?

Stay home and stop shopping

At the time of writing, the lockdown is still in full force. We are still limited to only leaving the house for work, exercise, essential items or medical reasons and as such most of us are visiting the supermarket as infrequently as possible. This isn’t something we are used to.

Before all of this began, shopping was easy and most of us probably did it in one form or another EVERY day. We could get what we wanted, when we wanted it, 24 hours a day. There were very few opening restrictions, no queues, plenty of online delivery slots and we could wander in and out at our leisure. However, life as we know it now is far less simple.

Our trip to the supermarket is now a ‘challenge’. We prepare to go into shopping battle, we don our gloves, remind ourselves of the social distancing rules and ensure we are equipped with anti-bac spray a the door. However, arguably, one of the trickiest elements of the shopping expedition, is making sure the list is correct! This is the one chance we’ll get this week to buy EVERYTHING we need, and the pressure is daunting. List preparation takes on a new life and requires a thorough audit of what’s currently in stock in the kitchen, meticulous meal planning and steady approach to identifying the items we absolutely CAN NOT live without. Desire has been replaced with necessity and with pockets squeezed, item availability limited, and movement through the isles regulated, now has become the time to make the most of what we have.

Waste not, want not

Online cookery shows, recipe tweets and banana bread crazes have crept up overnight and there is a feeling of solidarity and accomplishment in using left-overs or ‘back of the cupboard’ ingredients to create sufficient and edible meals. The current situation is the perfect excuse to shake off the expectation of perfection. Experimentation and ad-hoc presentation are the acceptable norm and everyone around the dinner table is maybe more focused on celebrating the fact there is actually good food on the table, rather than the look or even taste of it.

Today, getting a meal ready for ourselves and our loved ones requires a considerable amount of effort and everyone, even the kids, know this. As such, wasting any of it seems crazy. Even if we don’t particularly like the taste of something or aren’t in the mood for a particular dish, it would be a crime not to eat it – so we do! But will this new-found appreciation for food and reduction of waste continue?

As with everything right now, the answer is unknown, but it would be nice to think that our attitudes will change. We’ll all be used to making the most of what we have and appreciating it more. Some of us will have discovered delightful new recipes, perhaps using ‘less fancy’ ingredients. Others will have tried new foods, found new favourites, or re-ignited an appreciation of simpler items that bring back childhood memories. If nothing else, we have all learned how to write accurate shopping lists and this is where, in many cases, food waste reduction can start. Overbuying perishable items is one of the biggest food waste culprits. Now that more of us have learned to buy only what we eat, and to eat what we buy, we may start to win the war on food waste.

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