The Christmas holidays are fast approaching and for most people it’s time to start preparing for the ‘Big Day’. Buying and wrapping presents, inviting friends and family over, and of course, organising the festive foods.
This festive period is traditionally the time of year for people to come together and participate in an array of cultural traditions with those closest to them. For many (including myself) the food is the highlight. For those that celebrate Christmas, 71% said that having Christmas dinner with the family was something that simply would not be the same without it. And I agree.
The Perfect Christmas
The idea of Christmas dinner, well the one we know and love today, may have originated in the Victorian era, but has been moulded and promoted over years of direct and indirect advertising by large retail companies into this image of an excessive, must-have, luxury feast. The same can be said with the convention of gift giving, which has become more about how much you spend rather than the thought gone into it, causing a divide between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. This is understandable from the point of view of the retailers, as the average household spends £159 on food and drink alone at Christmas, making it the biggest consumer holiday of the year.
The greater part of the population has taken this festive feast for granted, and expect to load up their plates year in year out. However, with growing populations and an uncertain economic climate, the future of Christmas could look a little bleaker than usual.
Getting to the Plate
25% of the food we produce is lost to pests and diseases. This shows the instability within the current food system and how a genuine threat can compromise our food security. In recent years, there has been a danger to turkeys from bird flu that spread through mainland Europe. So credible was the threat that British farmers were ordered to keep their livestock indoors as a safeguard from the disease. Now whilst bird flu was eventually considered to not be posing a risk to British consumers, it meant that some turkeys technically ‘failed’ the requirements for them to be classified as free-range because of being kept inside for too long.
A Changing Climate
Food security for the people of Britain has been put at further risk this year through more political uncertainty. The cost of a Christmas dinner has been reported to have increased by 16% from 2016, even at the UK’s cheapest supermarkets, and this is partially down to the uncertainties caused by Brexit. This instability in the political climate has not only directly affected the price for consumers, but supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s have stated a decline in annual profits due to mounting costs coupled with shaky consumer confidence. Farmers are also experiencing this volatility, uncertain how to price their product in the current climate.
With inflation at its highest point since April 2012, it has had a knock-on effect on consumers. It is not uncommon that rapid rates of inflation can cause civil unrest, a possibility for the UK. What is certain is that with 8.4 million people already in the grasps of food insecurity, higher prices will only push more towards this fate.
Environmentally, the issue of climate change threatens food production on via both amplified annual variations and long-term change. The greater occurrence of extreme weather events leads us to believe that these impacts are only set to get more severe. For example, adverse weather conditions can lead to shortages of crops. In February, the UK experienced a shortage of root vegetables as the temperature plummeted at the time of harvest. This included carrots and parsnips, mainstays of the classic Christmas plate. Since a range of crops rely on specific weather conditions, it is clear the vulnerability of its supply at Christmas as an indirect effect of climate change.
The Inefficiency of Consumption
Whilst it is true that Christmas is dedicated to friends and families coming together around a food rich table, the brutal reality of food waste is prevalent. In 2015, 4.2 million Christmas dinners were wasted across the country. This all adds up to a whopping 17.2 million Brussel sprouts; 11.9 million carrots; 11.3 million roast potatoes; 7.5 million mince pies; and 263,000 turkeys. Or in other words, £64 million worth of nutritious food gone to waste. Not only does this discarded food not go to those in need, it also wastes all the resources that were used in getting it from farm to fork: water, energy, labour, money, etc. There are some players who are attempting to minimise the amount of food
wasted over Christmas by allowing it to be redistributed. Aldi are set to give away all the fresh food they have leftover before the shut down for the Christmas break. On Christmas Eve they will share their products with organisations such as foodbanks in support of those “less fortunate individuals”. It does pose the question why are they not always doing this or whether it is due to some sort of corporate responsibility. However, even though it helps to redistribute food surplus it does not tackle uneven sales.
There is a lot of pressure from different corners when it comes to cooking at Christmas. Hosts have the expectation of presenting a perfect Christmas dinner to uphold and therefore the thought of not having enough food to successfully fill everyone’s bellies pushes them to overcook – and waste. Unnecessarily. Research from Sainsbury’s has shown that households are also prone to additional waste during the holidays because they do not know how to properly prepare the meal. So, whether it be the burden of cooking a festive feast or the pressure from advertising, food waste is significantly greater over Christmas.
For the Future
The security of your dinner should be safe this year, some of the issues that are presented insinuate there are more stern questions to come.
While Christmas is a special time, more should be being done to tackle hunger all year round. Food security should be for life, not just for Christmas.