Putting money where our mouths are

As students, we truly do appreciate the financial pain of ‘The Weekly Shop’. Many of us would go free range, organic, fair trade and (dare I say it?) Tesco’s Finest if only it weren’t for the value options offering us the same thing (with added salt and injustice) for three quid cheaper. The caravan of students trailing home from Cannon Park can’t hide their 50p pizzas and BOGOF deals from the world – we’ve all got them in our bags. We get our thrills from finding meals for under a pound, regardless of how it tastes or what it contains, and half price Ben and Jerry’s frequently causes foaming at the mouth. Having said that, a cheeky £5 trip to The Dirty Duck for lasagne and chips certainly doesn’t go a miss every so often.

At the other end of the food buying scale sit the willing customers of another Duck – the three Michelin starred Fat Duck, Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant in Bray, Berkshire, where a tasting menu will set you back around £150. So what, then, is the true cost of food?
As a Masterchef fan (don’t deny it – Greg and John have a place in everybody’s hearts) and self-confessed foodie, I can totally see the appeal of haute cuisine and would rather spend money on that than, say, a haircut.

But when one in 12 people in the world is malnourished, shelling out multiple tenners for ‘Onion Three Ways’ seems like a crime against humanity. A bag of onions in Tesco costs 95 pence and lasts until you find them growing shoots in the back of your cupboard, but somehow a little chopping and caramelizing from a chef with designer glasses warrants a huge price hike. Although you might be ‘paying for the experience’, £150 in the Fat Duck is money that could be spent elsewhere. On the World Vision website, the same amount will feed five families in Sudan for a month. Preachy, but true.

On top of the price, there’s the issue of waste. According to a Sustainable Restaurant Association survey, nearly half a kilo of food is chucked away per diner. One third of this comes from their unfinished plate, but the remainder comes from the preparation stages, where unwanted scraps are tossed into a bin bag. Restaurants always keep an eye on profit but the same survey showed that only 5% of jettisoned food was out of date or inedible. 600,000 tons of food is binned every year in restaurants across Britain. I don’t know about you, but these figures are certainly enough to put me off my onion.

What I’m getting at here is the huge moral minefield that now surrounds our every Western world sized mouthful. On the one hand, we have charities and campaigns constantly struggling to save lives in the third world, and on the other, we have this extravagant celebrity chef culture, with pretty plates of food costing obscene amounts. Then, somewhere in the middle, we’ve got the space most of us fill – the ‘spend a little and eat a lot mentality.’ Bonkers, isn’t it?


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