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Fighting festive food waste

Christmas is almost upon us, which means that food – and lots of it! – will be crammed into shopping trolleys everywhere. But, amid all the festivities, it’s important to remember that excess comes at a price – for people, animals and the planet.

Mid-winter feasting is as old as humanity itself, but it’s taken a worryingly gluttonous turn in recent decades. An ancient custom designed to break the long, dark, cold days of winter with warmth, light and revelry has, over the centuries, morphed into the commercial free-for-all we know today.

Of course, sharing great-quality, great-tasting food and drink with loved ones is an undeniable pleasure and an important opportunity to catch up with friends and family. The problem is that for many people in the Western world, the festive period has become an excuse to ditch any sense of restraint and moderation in favour of shameless, even obscene, greed – that is, until the sobriety of the New Year kicks in, when gluttony so often turns to guilt (gym membership, anyone?).

Shameless squandering

To highlight the shocking scale of our profligacy, we’ve gathered together a few festive food-waste facts for you.

  • More than a third of us admit to throwing away more food at Christmas than at any other time of year.
  • In 2012, in Britain alone, it was predicted that the equivalent of 2 million turkeys, 5 million Christmas puddings and 74 million mince pies went to waste.
  • In the same year, it’s believed that more than 15 million cups of roast turkey fat were poured down the drain in the UK on Christmas Day – that’s almost enough to fill an Olympic swimming pool.
  • This year, people in Scotland alone are set to bin more than 50,000 tonnes of food and drink throughout December, including 280,000 turkeys, 240,000 Christmas puddings and 3.5 millions mince pies.

This is food waste gone mad!

Factory farming – more wasteful than Christmas

If you find all this shameless seasonal squandering hard to swallow, brace yourself for the really indigestible truth: that there is a far greater drain on the world’s larder and it doesn’t just happen at Christmas. This year-round blight is factory farming, and it’s synonymous with outrageous waste and wanton destruction across the world.

Here are the top three ways that factory farming wastes food:

  • Farm animals are fed one-third of the world's cereals and 90% of the world’s soybeans; in other words, it takes high-quality crops that could be eaten by people and feeds them to farm animals instead. It’s a scandalous situation, especially in a world where nearly a billion people are already going hungry.
  • For every 6kg of plant protein fed to livestock, only about 1kg is transformed into meat or other livestock products. Now that’s some serious wastage!
  • For every 100 food calories of edible crops fed to livestock, we get back just 30 calories in the form of meat and milk; that’s a mind-blowing 70% loss.

As Compassion CEO, Philip Lymbery, says:

"Factory farms are food factories in reverse; they waste it, not make it; and they waste valuable cropland in the process."

Taking action

Thankfully, there’s a growing number of visionary people working hard to ease the problem of our everyday extravagance, from environmentalist Tristram Stuart’s Pig Idea, which encourages the feeding of food waste to pigs, to the charity Fare Share, which transforms food waste into nutritious meals for vulnerable people.

But, alone, that’s not enough. To make a real difference, we all need to do our bit to curb food waste; to get better at planning meals, cleverer about storing our food and more creative than ever when it comes to eating up every last morsel.

This Christmas is a great place to start, and one of the most powerful stands you can make in support of the anti-food-waste movement is to make sure you consume less but better-quality meat, eggs and dairy. In so doing, you’ll be playing your part in stifling the cruel and crazy practice of factory farming – one of the world’s most effective mechanisms for wasting food.

Starting today

So whether it’s your mince pies or your mulled wine, your vegetables or your turkey, it’s important not to overbuy this Christmas. Better by far to spend a bit more on moderate amounts of great-quality foods rather than going bargain-basement crazy and throwing a mountain of surplus supplies in the bin.

And remember, these tips will be relevant throughout the year. After all, appreciating food is for life, not just for Christmas.

Where do you stand on festive food waste? Let us know your tips for a less wasteful party season on Facebook or Twitter.