Food waste just doesn't seem to be much of a UK problem

Big numbers are big numbers. But numbers do always need to be put into context:

Occasionally a statistic emerges that makes you despair at human folly. Yesterday, there were two. The first was that Britons throw away the equivalent of 86 million uneaten chickens every year.


Of course, it is not just chickens, and it is not only young people. An astonishing two billion potatoes are among the seven million tonnes of food waste that we throw away each year, and everyone is guilty of excessive waste, myself included.

Total number of chickens for human consumption in the UK is up around 1.2 billion a year. Sure, we could talk about the avian massacre to fill our bellies but a wastage rate of what, 7% or so, hardly seems excessive. That's even before we wonder whether this number is achieved by adding up the weight of all those Parson's Noses going uneaten. Potato consumption is of the order of 100 kg a head and 30 potatoes each might again be in that 4 to 7% or so range.

Compared to the 50% or so of food that rots between farm and fork in those places without a supermarket logistics chain, as the FAO tells us, this seems positively frugal in fact.

We can check this another way too. A chicken and a few kilos of potatoes per year is what, £5? Just to make some sort of assumption at all. The average family is still that two adults, two children of the nuclear family, equal to perhaps 3 adults. So £15 a year in such wastage. The average family food bill is £50 a week. Or 0.6% of that food bill is this "excessive" waste.

Which really isn't quite how we'd describe quite such an absence of waste.

The point we would take from this is entirely the other way around. History - as Irish history especially shows us - is littered with examples of people actually dying for lack of potatoes. Chicken was a luxury item, very much more so than even beef, until well into the lifetime of the more seasoned in years of us. We've now a system in which several Sunday lunches' worth of exactly those foods for each of us is merely a rounding error in our food supply.

Hasn't the world got better recently? Not least in our having solved PJ O'Rourke's great existential question, what's for lunch?