When was the last time you totally botched Christmas dinner?
Last year? Once, a few years back? Never ever?
If you said never, it’s okay — no need to fib. It happens to the best of us and for a variety of reasons.
Maybe you were attempting to spin too many proverbial plates and got distracted. Maybe your mind was somewhere else (that glass of Cabernet, perhaps). Maybe your visiting mother-in-law was breathing down your neck. Maybe you tried to cut some culinary corners and didn’t fully follow the recipe. Maybe you were distracted, frazzled, rushed or simply don’t enjoy preparing elaborate traditional holiday meals and, as such, half-assed it. Maybe you are indeed a talented cook but have impossibly high standards for yourself and wound up buckling under pressure.
This is all okay — your friends and family will forgive you. Or forget. Ideally, they’ll never even know that an ill-fated side of roasted apples and Brussels sprouts was quietly slipped, in its entirety, into the trash before it had the chance to be presented at the dinner table.
And herein lies a major issue with food waste and the holidays. Food waste levels don’t necessarily skyrocket during the season of curdled eggnog and crying fits in the kitchen because of volume — and the obscene amount of leftovers that result. Mount Rainer-sized mounds of cast-off fruitcake don’t have much to do with it either.
According to new research conducted by British supermarket chain Sainsbury’s and shared by the Guardian, so much waste is generated in the kitchen around Christmastime because a majority of us simply have no clue how to properly cook or prepare certain items. It’s because of this ineptitude that so much food — some of it undercooked, some of it burnt to a crisp, some of it just frightful looking or downright inedible — ends up being chucked during the holidays.
While the Sainsbury’s holiday food waste survey is Brit-centric, the results certainly resonate here across the pond with the most significant takeaway being that this type of food waste is largely avoidable. It’s up to incompetent — and consistently bad — cooks to step away and hand over the reigns to someone who knows what they're doing and, in turn, are less likely to make rubbish-bound mistakes. Swallowing one’s pride and asking a more seasoned cook for help is another way to curb potential food waste … even if that more seasoned cook is — gulp — that dreaded hovering mother-in-law. Either that, or it’s time to pack it in and consider dining out.
As the Guardian notes, 7 million metric tones of food is collectively thrown away by U.K. household every year with a majority of food waste generated during Christmastime resulting from preventable kitchen mishaps. Turkey — the traditional holiday main in the U.K. given that Brits obviously don’t partake in an unchecked tryptophan orgy just a few weeks prior as their American cousins do — is the most discarded dish with one in 10 respondents admitting to tossing their birds before they even reached the table. Brussels sprouts and roasted potatoes are also frequently thrown away, largely due to “improper cooking.”
WRAP, a governmental entity founded to monitor and prevent food waste, estimates that 2 million turkeys, 5 million Christmas puddings and a staggering 74 million mincemeat pies are thrown away every Christmas in the U.K.
A plumb shame: An estimated 5 million Christmas puddings are discarded every holiday season in the U.K. (Photo: Jon Roberts/flickr)
Undercooked, burnt to a crisp and all-around inedible
In addition to fouling up their fowl and other dishes, the group of 2,000 adults surveyed by Sainsbury’s are also openly neurotic about serving their Christmas dishes crispy on the outside and raw in the middle. Sixty percent of those surveyed note that their biggest worry while preparing a holiday meal is undercooking while a third fret about burning their festive fare.
All and all, two in every five Brits worry about burning or undercooking their holiday feasts. That figure rises to every three in five when looking strictly at 16 to 24 year olds, an age group that may lack the confidence and culinary finesse of older generations.
While ham, prime rib and seafood are the dominant Christmas dishes in the U.S., the aforementioned turkey with cranberry sauce, along with roast goose, Beef Wellington, bacon-wrapped dates and the ubiquitous plum pudding dominate holiday tables in the U.K. Also, swap out cookie plates for layered sponge cakes known as trifle.
“Food plays a huge part in making the perfect Christmas, but for many of us, due to a lack of kitchen confidence, it’s not just the turkey that’ll end up being completely stuffed," Paul Crewe, head of sustainability, engineering, energy and environment at Saisnbury’s, tells the Guardian. “Over a third of us will face a festive food fiasco and, whether you’ve spoiled the sprouts or toasted turkey, it’ll be both food and money in the bin.”
Raising awareness of food waste during the holiday season is nothing new for Sainsbury’s, one of several major British grocers that have tackled the issue through both internal waste-curbing schemes and customer-facing campaigns that, among other things, try to spread the love to imperfect-looking — but still perfectly edible – vegetables.
The holiday food waste research was conducted as part of Sainsbury’s £10 million (about $12 million) Waste Less, Save More initiative. A major component of the 5-year scheme is currently taking place in the English town of Swadlincote where the supermarket has invested £1 million in pilot initiatives that aim to reduce the level of food waste generated by the town's 30,000 residents by 50 percent over a 12-month span. If successful, Sainsbury’s, in partnership with WRAP, will introduce the waste-cutting initiatives tested in Swadlincote nationwide.
As noted by the Guardian, the pilot program in Swadlincote “teaches families — many on benefits and low incomes — new cookery skills as well as practical help in cutting food waste” while also aiming to “improve understanding of nutritional awareness, healthy eating and confidence to cook from scratch.”
Now the time for truth: have you ever found yourself throwing away the main course — or an array of side dishes — of a Christmas meal because you were a bit in over your head or strayed from a recipe?