Today, 29 September 2021, the 2nd International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste is taking place. It’s a global virtual event and you can join in here. In the context of Cop26 and climate change debates, this is a key event as the UN finds its way towards the sustainable development goal 12 in 2030, to “ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns”.
Food loss and food waste
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN describes food loss as:
“The decrease in the quantity or quality of food resulting from decisions and actions by food suppliers in the chain, excluding retailers, food service providers and consumers … Any food that is discarded, incinerated or otherwise disposed of along the food supply chain from harvest/slaughter/catch up to, but excluding, the retail level, and does not re-enter in any other productive utilization, such as feed or seed.”
Alongside this, the FAO describes food waste as the “decrease in the quantity or quality of food resulting from decisions and actions by retailers, food service providers and consumers”.
Baking in WWII
There may be some lessons to consider from our past. One of my popular heritage baking talks is about ‘Baking in World War II’. During the 1930s, Britain was importing about 70 percent of all its food, so it was imperative to put in place a system to ensure an adequate supply and distribution of food. Planning for rationing was actually started in 1936, with the intention of avoiding the shambolic rationing system that had been set up in the closing stages of World War I.
During World War II, only goods which were available were on rationing lists, so people soon understood the refrain “Yes, we have no bananas!” Throughout 14 years of rationing from 1940 to 1954, you were ‘entitled to purchase’ basic food stuffs, including sugar, meat, fats and tea, and other non-consumable goods. Later, a points system was added to include tinned goods, dried fruit and cereals with priority allowances for such things as milk and eggs.
There were a whole series of complex procedures, overseen by The Ministry of Food with the country split into 19 divisions, with 1,300 local food offices. The system was flexible, so sugar rations were increased in summer to encourage jam making to make the most of seasonal fruit. This meant that you had to keep up to date by listening to radio broadcasts and reading newspapers. Wasting food was likened to a criminal offence, so every morsel mattered. ‘Waste not, want not’ was on everyone’s lips.
But there was more. Strategies were rolled out to explain nutrition to the public in simple terminology, and how to get the most out of what was available. Recipe leaflets (around 40 million) and cookery books, written in practical language and covering a wealth of topics were distributed; cookery demonstrations were held in shops and village halls; educational short movies were shown at cinemas; and a regular series of radio shows entitled ‘Kitchen Front’, was hosted by favourite wartime cook, Marguerite Pattern.
The ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign, modelled on the USA’s Victory Gardens in WWI and the work of the Land Army Girls, added to the huge efforts to come up with a food plan based on the nutritional needs of the population.
Home cooks tried their best to be creative and come up with tasty treats and cookery and gardening were on the school curriculum. I’ve ended up with several versions of this recipe for Vinegar Cake. Dried fruit went on the rationing list in January 1942 so no room for bake-off disasters with this tiny cake. This version came from School Cookery 1942 edition. Vinegar acts as a raising agent.
2oz/50g butter (or margarine)
1½ oz/35g mixed fruit
1½ oz/35g sugar
1 tsps bicarbonate of soda
2 tsps vinegar
¼ pint/140ml milk
Rub the butter into the flour. Add the fruit, sugar and bicarbonate of soda. Mix well. Add the vinegar and enough milk to make a stiff dropping consistency. Place in a greased/lined cake tin*. Bake in a moderate oven (180C/350F/Gas 4) for 30 minutes.
*You could use a 6 inch/15cms round or square cake tin or a 1lb/ ½kg loaf tin.
This cake is overdue a rebranding exercise. It’s a very simple cake that works well as a light fruit cake. Don’t let the vinegar put you off. You won’t taste it!
Reducing food waste
I’m no expert, but it is very clear that reducing food loss and waste has got to be top of our agenda, amidst the dire warnings about food shortages. The Real Junk Food Project, created in 2013 (which you can read more about here) set out on its mission to “feed bellies not bins” and over 7,000 tonnes of food waste have been recovered, the equivalent of 16.6 million meals. More like this, please!