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Feature: Feeding the habit

It seems that we just can't help ourselves. Despite being bombarded with information about Britain being in the grip of an obesity epidemic, it seems that next to eating food our next favourite activity is throwing it away.

New figures from the Government and the food industry show that around one-third of food grown for human consumption in the UK ends up in the bin.

Families are throwing away almost 40% of the food they buy, with statistics revealing that each adult wastes £420-worth of food each year.

Apparently we have come a long way from the days when parents would stand over their children and insist on cleared plates, with lectures on the starving children in Africa and how during the war people had no choice but to go without.

Perhaps it is the wide range of diets we are becoming obsessed with that is causing all this waste. Salads and vegetables bought with the best of intentions are being left to fester in the fridge as homeowners guiltily tuck into a pizza. Or perhaps we now consider ourselves wealthy enough not to worry about the money that has been wasted every time food is scraped into the bin.

Whatever our motivation, the problem is escalating, with BBC research estimating that changes in people's habits and scares over food safety are increasing wastage by 15% every decade.

Last May the Prudential's Soggy Lettuce Report found that the average British adult wastes £1,725 on food, luxury items, entertainment, travel, gadgets and hobbies each year. This means that, combined, the nation is throwing away £80.6 billion every 12 months.

The report showed that we needlessly waste money on food that goes off before it is consumed, clothes and shoes that are never worn and club memberships that go unused. However, the humble lettuce emerged as the primary culprit, with 61% of households admitting to throwing it out every week.

When asked about how they felt about the amount of money wasted, 29% of respondents said that it didn't bother them. Embarrassment was next, with

16% admitting they felt guilty. Another 9% felt resentful and stressed, 4% said they felt powerless to stop it and an equal number said they could afford to waste money. Significantly, 13% admitted to getting some pleasure out of a little waste.

However, Government adviser Lord Haskins, a farmer and former head of manufacturer Northern Foods, says that wealthy consumers have become greedy and are careless about buying too much food. Equally, supermarkets offer over-sized portions.

Speaking to Radio Four's Costing the Earth programme, Lord Haskins said: "Excess of affluence means that we think that food is cheap and therefore we can throw it away. We are very greedy when we shop. Our eyes are bigger than our stomachs in homes and restaurants."

According to Lord Haskins, this wastage is the worst side of people as consumers, with sheer laziness meaning that we can no longer be bothered to deal with leftovers.

He also criticised the fact that fruit and vegetables sold by supermarkets must appear to be perfect, with produce only slightly blemished being thrown away with the excuse that people won't buy them. And the catering and restaurant sector is throwing away one-third of the food it orders, while 46% of customers admit to regularly over ordering takeaways and throwing away the leftovers.

If this wasn't enough, Haskins said the public had become paranoid about sticking to sell-by dates: "We are risk-averse. We're obsessed with sell-by dates, so that we throw away perfectly good

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