When you clear plates, cups and mugs from tables day in day out, you start to notice patterns. Patterns in the way people eat. Or don’t eat. I am not talking about how they bring food to mouth – although that should be a study in itself. I am talking about what is left on what should be an empty plate.

There are the types that clear every morsel and every lick of sauce from both crockery and cutlery (I am one of those). This signals appreciation for food and a healthy appetite and also makes clearing the table and washing dishes a lot easier.

Then there are the species that eat every morsel except for, perhaps, one or two specific items of food. An abandoned sausage, an untouched tomato. These folk confuse me – if you have no intention of eating said items, why not asked for them to be omitted thus avoiding the heinous crime of wasting perfectly good food.

Sometimes a more OCD type of eater comes in – the person who orders fried eggs and eats everything except the yolks. Those that don’t deign to eat the crusts of sandwiches. Others who pick out peas from their kedgeree. And the strange people who disdainfully neglect the fat and rind of bacon.

Then there are the people who eat half of what they ordered and when asked inquiringly “was everything ok with your meal?”, they smile apologetically and confess they weren’t that hungry. This bemuses and irritates me. If you aren’t that hungry, why would you spend money eating out? Perhaps you are travelling and don’t have the luxury of one’s own kitchen. Then at least ask for it to be put in a doggy bag thus avoiding the heinous crime of wasting perfectly good food.

The most vile creatures are the ones who do little more than re-organise the food on their plate rather than insert any of it into their mouths. Parents feeding children are often not only guilty of this but also guilty of the inconsiderate practice of leaving uneaten food not on the plate it was designed for, but on the tables, chairs and floors.

This lack of respect of food riles me, and once again the heinous crime of food waste is committed. Who brought these people up to believe that it is acceptable to have such disdain for food – one of the most important things in life? What is going on in their psyche that makes them behave so wastefully? Do they have that much money that allows them to eat out and then not eat? Do they think food grows on trees (it does, actually, but that’s not the point)?? I want to know!

I suffer from the opposite problem – not only do I finish what is on my plate but I usually want another plateful. Yes, we are suffering from an obesity epidemic and therefore overeating should not be encouraged…. but leaving food half eaten is not the solution. Don’t eat out if you are not hungry! Order a half portion! Work off the calories with an invigorating exercise of your choice!

The Institute of Mechanical Engineers published a study earlier this month and found that between 30-50% of the food produced globally never makes it onto a plate. That’s $1.2-2 BILLION! And we think we need to make poverty history. Perhaps if less food was wasted we could assuage this poverty.

The study attributes this colossal figure of loss to ridiculous and unnecessary sell-by-dates (when did we get so precious and stop using common sense when evaluating whether a food stuff is suitable for eating?), buy-one-get-one free promotions, Western demand for fruit and vegetables to be pleasing on the eye (vanity even extends to veg) as well as “poor engineering and agricultural practices”, inadequate infrastructure and poor storage facilities.

Food waste - it produces 15 times more emissions than packaging. Yet another reason not to waste food

Food waste – it produces 15 times more emissions than packaging. Yet another reason not to waste food

And this is the food wasted before food hits plates. What about all the food that is cooked and then thrown away by the kinds of people aforementioned – both at home and in eating establishments. Some people have not even reached a level of evolution that acknowledges this food waste as a problem. My blood pressure soars just typing this.

But among the ignorant are those that share my vehement opposition to the wonton wastage of our most important commodities. Food Cycle is one example of a movement that takes surplus food from supermarkets and, with the help of volunteers, cooks it into delicious meals for those at risk of food poverty and isolation. In my current abode of Oxford, the Oxford Food Bank runs a similar scheme to help eliminate food waste and feed the hungry. Love Food Hate Waste is a great resource on food waste, offers solutions and recipe ideas to help you hamper your food wastage and help you save money.

Small businesses are starting to use the fact larger businesses throw out perfectly good fruit and vegetables to their advantage. Rubies in the Rubble – the clue is in the name! – take “leftover” veg from market vendors and turn it into delectable chutneys and preserves.

And then there is the practice of Freeganism where you feast on whatever spoils happen to have been thrown out that day by your local Tesco. Extremely selfishly, some supermarkets have cottoned onto the practice and now keep their bins locked up away from opportunistic bin divers.

The truth about UK food waste (from Love Food Hate Waste)

The truth about UK food waste (from Love Food Hate Waste)

While we can all make individual efforts to eradicate our own food waste, the biggest responsibility lies with the producers, distributors and vendors of food. Will it ever be possible to bring that 30-50% down to 0%?

9 Ways You Can Start Eliminating Your Food Footprint:

  1. Buy less – do smaller shops, more often, if possible. This will avoid you over-buying which can leave you with a pile of rotten food on your hands if you don’t eat it fast enough. It will save you money, too.
  2. Eat less – and by that I mean take smaller portions at mealtimes so you aren’t left with uneaten food on your plate you might feel compelled to throw out.
  3. Throw away nothing – pretty much every part of a vegetable or animal can be used in cooking and then eaten. Make stock out of a roast chicken carcass that can then be turned into delicious soup. You can also use the stalks and stem of herbs and veggies to make stock or to eat in their own right. Cauliflower leaves happen to be delicious.
  4. Don’t discriminate – just because a carrot grown a bit old doesn’t mean its useful life is over. Throw it into a soup or grate it into a scrumptious cake. Casseroles, stews and tagines will welcome any reject veg.
  5. Man up – use common sense when assessing whether a food is edible or not. If there’s a bit of mould on your cheese: cut it off! If an apple is bruised just chop off the nasty bit and use the rest. You can even relax a bit when it comes to meat – if it is inedible you’ll know immediately by the smell.
  6. Freeze away – leftovers as well as any veggies, fruit or meat you don’t think you will get round to eating in the near future. You’ll be grateful in weeks to come when the fridge is bare.
  7. Help the homeless – cook or bake way too much even to freeze? Drop a load off at a homeless shelter. And if you can’t track one down, simply give it to someone sleeping rough directly.
  8. Compost – ok, so even if you adhere carefully to all the tips above, you will still generate some food waste. Turn these bits into yummy nutrition for your garden and start a compost heap. At the very least avoid throwing it into landfill – many councils now collecting food waste anyway.
  9. Work with what you’ve got – use up all the random bits and pieces you have pottering around your fridge and larder. Too many tomatoes? Search the BBC Good Food website for a plethora of tomato containing recipes and get inspired.