Forget Brexit: Food waste is the biggest disaster we're sleepwalking into

Mark Hix

It gets tiring when, on a daily basis, you get asked about how Brexit is going to affect your staffing and your food prices. The simple answer is, it hasn’t affected either, yet; we still have 40 per cent European staff and, to my knowledge, no one has left the country because of it.

On the food front, I buy 99 per cent British anyway, and will naturally continue to support our farmers, growers and producers – why wouldn’t you when we have amazing British produce on our doorstep, comparable, if not better, than the best in the world?

When you read about how post-Brexit households are going to be spending an extra thousand pounds a year on food, it’s alarming. But you read more, you see that these statistics are based on food imported from Europe.

There’s never a mention of what will happen if we pivot to buying more British food (or, in some cases, continue to do that). If you’re on a tight budget, then pop down to Lidl – they have boxes piled high with well-priced British produce, without all the superfluous packaging, which means you can pick up just what you need. Their fridges are also full of decent British meat and poultry.

Those who will suffer most from the post-Brexit food economy are lazy shoppers who rely on convenience foods, which will inevitably cost more. But these are already a false economy, given the dearth of quality of their ingredients.

If people stop buying these and instead go for some of the great value cuts your local butcher will sell you, they might even save a few quid. My grandmother used to cook ham hock once a week, which we would eat hot with parsley sauce, cold with pickles, or as a side to a pea soup. All you need to do to it is simmer it for a couple hours in water, so you can’t go wrong.

There’s more than £10bn worth of household food waste each year, which equates to a few hundred quid a year per home. We chuck away 80m chickens, just through poor domestic management and over-shopping. People throw things away far too early – I always head for the discounted food shelves in supermarkets, where you can pick up some real bargains with plenty of shelf life. I mean, we wouldn’t let half a bottle of wine sit in the fridge for weeks until it’s gone off, so why do it with food?

I love rummaging through people’s fridges when they tell me “there’s nothing in there” and knocking up a two course meal. It’s mostly about using your imagination, rather like how Caesar salad was invented when restaurateur Caesar Cardini had unexpected guests and all he had in his fridge was romaine lettuce, anchovies and Parmesan.

Schools used to teach home economics when I was a kid but it’s not on the curriculum anymore. It’s due a come-back, especially in an age in which food shows dominates the TV and kids want to grow up to be chefs. Future generations need to get basic food education at an early age – it’s an essential part of our culture. I take a box of fruit and vegetables to my daughter’s school every so often and do a little quiz – you’d be quite surprised what they don’t know.

I reckon that’s all far scarier than Brexit. So instead of worrying about this thing that we can’t do a thing about, let’s have a little chat with ourselves and see how we can solve the food crisis.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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