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October 2017
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Feed the world

Food waste and Christmas: Why do the two go together and what can we do about it?


Photograph: PublicDomainPictures on Pixabay

By Anna Leunissen

Whether out of generosity, miscalculation or tradition, many people buy too much food for Christmas. A poll held by Unilever suggests that the Britons spend an average of £112 when hosting a Christmas meal. This is excessively more than people would spend on a meal served on an ordinary Monday evening. No wonder that, according to the Daily Mail, 10% of each Christmas dinner is thrown away.

While wondering about the reasons for someone to buy these excessive amounts of food and questioning what they do with leftovers, I decided to ask people about Christmas food behaviour. What it comes down to is that many of the people interviewed have a similar idea. This idea of “I rather have too much than not enough” is often either literally mentioned or at least implied. When they invite someone over to their in Christmas style decorated home and probably likewise dinner table, people want to serve food that is just as “Christmas-worthy”. When asking the Christmas dinner hosts about whether or not they are willing to change their shopping list if they would know they had to throw away large amounts of it, they were not immediately enthusiastic, to say the least. Although many acknowledged and realised that food waste is a problem, especially during Christmas, they were generally more eager to use leftovers after Christmas than to try to prevent food waste by just adjusting their list of groceries. “It is only Christmas once a year and we should celebrate that.” was also one of the responses. This shows that Christmas and food are seen as inseparable. In itself, this is not wrong. However, a slight reduction of the quantity of food might not be such a bad idea either.

Food waste is a serious problem that is increasingly acknowledged in everyday life. There is a general trend of a growing awareness of the origin of our food. Popularity of organic food is rising and awareness around food and the problems that accompany it is increasing. When looking at the products that are sold, especially eating healthy is stimulated in the last couple of years with the labelling of certain types of food as so-called superfood.

This lean towards a greater awareness around food and its origin is a great opportunity to not only be present during the rest of the year, but also during Christmas. Being aware of where the food comes from, what energy has been put in to produce it and much waste is already produced in the process of making a product that can be bought in the stores might lead to different behaviour concerning food waste during Christmas. Acknowledging all the effort that went in the production of the food that you put on your beautifully decorated Christmas dinner table will not only increase the value that you personally assign to the product, it will also make you more aware of the pity of food waste.

There are already initiatives trying to address the topic of Christmas and food waste. Jamie Oliver, for instance, discusses not only both Christmas recipes and food waste on his website He also has some practical tips for people on how to reduce food waste yourself. has launched an advent calendar with tips to achieve a waste free Christmas

Although the awareness for food and its origin is generally increasing, food waste, especially during Christmas, is still a major problem. People that are willing to change their behaviour, especially regarding cooking with leftovers, but there are still quite some people that you come across who do not want to buy less because they consider Christmas to be inevitably intertwined with food and large amounts of it. However, there are some things that you can do yourself that can make a difference in the amount of food that you waste. If you want to decrease your food waste during Christmas, you could try to follow one or more of the tips below and let everyone know it is Christmas time without food waste this year.

Tips to reduce food waste

The best preparation begins before shopping

Before you start buying your groceries for Christmas, make a list of everything you will need to buy. Just making this list is one thing, sticking to it is another. Unless you truly forgot to write down something extremely important on your list, you should stick to what you have written down on your list. There is a big chance that you will be tempted to buy more than you actually need once you enter a shop. During Christmas time, they display so many products that you might think you need for your Christmas dinner. However, when you make a list beforehand, you are able to decide whether your really need a certain product. The trick is to buy what you came for instead of letting your buying behavior depend on what the shop wants you to buy. You can also look at the advent calendar here.

Making up for mistakes afterwards

It is not unlikely that, although you try to buy appropriate portions that are not too large, you will still be left with food. The leftovers can be used as well. Make this a fun activity. Try to come up with creative new recipes for your leftovers. For some inspiration you can visit this feature on the Jamie Oliver website that has some ideas on how to creatively use leftovers.

The average UK household wastes £ 700 each year1

10% of every dinner during Christmas is thrown away2

1/3 of diners admit to serving themselves an excessive amount of food2

  2. according to research by Daily Mail

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