The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Supermarkets and the question of throwing away good food

Photo: Suoermarket bill

Photo: Suoermarket bill

Sunday was my bi-weekly shop with my mum. This is usually hugely enjoyable. We have a light lunch and tootle over for the last hour of Waitrose Sunday shopping. This trip has all the drama and pace of a decent documentary. Will we make it out of the store before the lights dim?

We always flop into the car with minutes to spare. Meanwhile cars are racing in for the final five minutes. Are they just getting that one vital ingredient or doing the weekly shop in almost empty aisles? This Sunday our cashier remarked that they are still asked to sit by their cash tills for an extra half hour to accommodate the shoppers that are shopping after four when the store is ‘closed’.  I was shocked that the late comers could be so selfish and thoughtless. Everyone on the staff has to wait and welcome them.

Last year I met an electrician on a building site. His wife works for Waitrose. I discovered quite a few good things about this store. They start to mark down food within three days of expiry, Tesco marks down within one day.  In the old days (Christmas 2006) you could order a Christmas turkey at Waitrose without a deposit. So loads of people ordered turkeys and didn’t collect them. Then they whistled into the shop and bought one of the knocked down turkeys five minutes before the close of business on Christmas Eve. Two years ago, Waitrose in Newmarket fought back and gave their staff these unclaimed turkeys. They were not put on the shelves for the general public. Tiny paint smeared hands clapped with glee. I’m up for a bargain but not a scam.

We have three supermarkets in Newmarket: Neto, Tesco and Waitrose. The staff in each look (in the same order) unhappy, not happy and happy. If all goes belly up for Danny he wants to work in Waitrose. I agree. But Waitrose for shoppers is much more expensive than the rest. Even with the staff discounts I often see the Waitrose staff shopping in Tesco. Most must be on the minimum wage and on very tight budgets.

All of the supermarkets have skips that they fill with food past the sell-by date.  A small Tesco Metro can easily fill a skip a day This can be very different  from the consume-by date which can be a couple of days later.  This is food that has been offered hugely discounted maybe minutes before. Why not give the staff, homeless and any one needy access to those skips that are filled every night and sent to landfill. Landfill sites are filling up around here but even if they were empty it’s crazy to trash good food. I’m sure that everyone, including me, would take a chance on the remote possibility of food poisoning.

Years ago (1979) when I was making and selling toys in Covent Garden Market, London, I met someone who belonged to a large alternative community in Teddington. A deep throat in the local M&S would ring them when there was something good in the skips. Perhaps there are deep throats in our local supermarkets that still do the same. I do hope so. I hate the idea of good food being trashed when so many families in our community are struggling. It’s not just a credit crunch thing. There are loads of people in the UK who have struggled for years. Loading food into skips has happened for at least 30 years. Suddenly, we’re all aware that landfills are getting a bit full..

How about ten minutes before closing time, lay the food outside the back door? People can take the food for free, without sifting through a skip. Most of these people can’t even afford the ’value’ products so the supermarkets wouldn’t be losing custom.

I’d hail the people who ate this food as heroes as they are stopping good food being poured into landfill.

I‘d prefer to shop at a supermarket that implemented this sort of programme.. I’d be happy to pay 10% more for my food if I knew that people in need were being looked after.

And suerly, that’s what it’s all about.

  Leave a reply


  1. I love the idea of a supermarket mole tipping me off to a free lunch!

    And hi Danny, thanks for your comments: re the fishcakes… I’m sure white fish would work! The version I did was all about tins but freshly cooked is bound to be better?!

  2. I heard of fregans on a radio programme a few years ago – very interesting & if I’ve understood it right padlocking bins won’t suddenly turn them into paying consumers! I also wonder if laying the food outside the back door will attract a lot of ‘scavengers’ and then those poor families who need it probably won’t get a look in. I agree though that it is disgusting to waste so much food. Our local Co-op has a policy that they’d rather get 10p for an item than chuck it and do very good reductions. There are several ‘poorer’ estates around the co-op and so those families can pop out and pick up the bargains. I’m happy to pay a bit more and support an ethical shop like this.

  3. When I was about 15 I worked in a local elderly people’s home for some extra pocket money. A supermarket used to give them big food parcels of things which were going out of date. That’s all stopped now and it’s because we’re heading down the stupid litigious path, everybody is scared of being sued. It would just take one person and that’s what has spoiled it for everyone else. They need to make up some new laws to ensure they stop this awful waste. The waste and the landfill issues alone make it worthwhile.

  4. Not so long ago I had an internet Tesco delivery and the van man and I discovered a jar of jam had smashed and run over many of the goods. The van man is apparently instructed to throw away all spoiled goods. I received a credit and then the van man gave the goods to me saying all they need is a wash! A very sensible approach I thought!

  5. What a pity to throw away food when people are starving.No common sense at all! There is no consideration for people suffering,no earning in any way.There should be laws on this purpose!

  6. Cara @ Turvys

    I note with great interest your comments on shopping at Waitrose being more expensive. For me I find the complete opposite. Shopping at Waitrose does make me a more reasoned shopper. Some things are more expensive, so it makes me avoid the impulse buys. I enjoy cooking and so cooking from scratch is not something I worry about and so I can take advantage of the better quality and still save money.

    The last time I shopped at Tesco I spent over £90 for a weeks worth of shopping. My last shop at Waitrose – just after having been snowed in, and having not been shopping for 3 weeks cost me £76 – and that included £10 for our Valentines meal 😀
    and that fully replenished my pantry. I’m not looking to shop again for another 3 weeks now.

  7. Its a crime throwing away all this food when you consider there are many under nourished children out there whose parents are struggling to make ends meat.
    I have heard also that due to freeganism, many stores, especially around London actually padlock their bins to stop people getting to the food.
    A report I read recently said that a freegan found a box of a very reputable brand of marmalade in a bin and it had been binned due to one of the jars being broken and covering the others in marmalade!(there were 12 jars in all)
    I wonder if they have heard of a cloth and soapy water!

  8. Except some stores pour bleach all over the wasted food, to make sure no one benefits.
    Presumably, they will pay for this in eternity.

  9. Can’t remember how I stumbled across your blog but have enjoyed reading what you have written and thought I would comment on this one.

    I wonder if the supermarkets did put the food out for people to take whether they would actually end up with those people who could afford it coming as well? Some folks have definitely become quite greedy and wouldn’t think twice about depriving those who really do need the food.

    I live in Latvia and they rarely discount food in the local rural supermarket when it gets near the sell by date, instead they have a tendency to run out of certain items first rather than overstock. They even ran out of potatoes the other day.

  10. Hi there, this has been going on for quite some time actually. Its called freeganism.

    I actually thought it was this blog that tipped me off to it.. maybe not, Im spending more & more time in the bloggersphere over the past 12 monthes.

    I love this idea, and if it wasnt 12km from the nearest supermarket, I would definitely look into it. Its right up there with guerilla gardening in my book. Fantabbydooby as my kids would say.

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