Citing confusion about the difference between “best before” and “use by” dates, UK retailer Tesco said research had found less than half of respondents knew what those dates meant. File picture: LM Otero/AP
IN A WEEK of hammer blows to consumers, amid a hail of reports of inexorable prices increases, comes a serious indictment of our habits - the amount of food we waste, according to the Household Food Waste Disposal Study.

We are supposed to be the El Dorado of Africa, the breadbasket of the continent, but sadly more than a fifth of us go bed hungry every night - a staggering 12 million people.

To cap it all, we are the biggest wasters of food between Cape Town and Cairo - 30% of the food that is produced in South Africa is not eaten - because we buy too much, it goes off and has to be discarded.

We often buy too much food because it is on special; or we over-buy or prepare too much because our lives are so busy that these are the most convenient staples to have in the house to either pre-prepare meals for the week, or slap a quick meal together at the end of the day.

When we waste food, we also waste the considerable effort, energy and time that have gone into making it and transporting it to shops.

We also waste our own time, energy, effort and cost that go into buying and preparing it.

A study by scientists from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), focusing on Ekurhuleni (the East Rand) and Johannesburg, estimated the annual wastage per person at between 8kg and 12kg. It is between 6kg and 11kg in sub-Saharan Africa.

As we waste more, we buy more, forever pushing up inflation in a vicious cycle in which those who can least afford it are squeezed even tighter.

We can make a difference, we can shop more wisely, be more discerning.

We can also ensure that we prepare our oldest food first, while we still can, before it needs to be thrown out. We can also think more innovatively about either incorporating leftovers into our meal planning or avoiding surplus food altogether.

The bottom line, though, is that we cannot blithely waste food so when millions of fellow citizens have to sleep every night on empty bellies.

In a country where the gulf is so vast between those who have and those who do not, our waste is scandalous.

But it can readily be remedied by thoughtfulness, restraint and planning.