As COP26 dominates the news, we're all thinking about how to cut waste and live more sustainably. One woman, however, has actually done it.
NHS cancer care coordinator and mum of two Kelley Szostak, 36, has ensured her family produces zero waste, and says the cash savings mean they can now afford incredible holidays.
Kelley swears by shopping at her local surplus supermarkets – special outlets devoted to selling food near or on the sell-by date at a discounted rate – and has cut her weekly grocery bill down from £80 to just £18.
Kelley, who lives with her husband, Alex, 35, and their two sons, Alistair, four, and Fraser, 18 months, in Pendle, Lancashire, said: “The amount of food wasted in this country is criminal. People are going hungry while safe food is binned. I can’t stand it.
“I’m doing my part to reduce my carbon footprint and provide a cheaper and more sustainable way of life for my family."
Kelley first visited a surplus food supermarket in 2011 while living in Sheffield. “I had heard about the shop and wanted to have a look for myself," she explained. "It was a tiny little warehouse that had fridges, freezers and shelves absolutely chock full of stuff that was about to go out of date.
“I was surprised by how much good stuff I could find and when I considered the fact that it would otherwise go in the bin, I was horrified.”
Since having children, Kelley has become even more concerned about the level of food wasted each year.
“It is devastating to think that food poverty is a real thing in this country, especially because it’s completely preventable," she said. “If more food was made available to people who need it rather than it being thrown out, a lot more people would be fed. Food is better in bellies than in the bin.”
Each week, Kelley sets aside a small amount of money for her food shop, which is a far cry from the already reasonable £80 she used to spend feeding her family.
“I work with a really tight weekly budget and we’ve saved so much money by buying discounted food. Cutting our food bill down by £62 a week has meant that, before the pandemic, we were able to have two family holidays in Australia and one to New Zealand. We also went to the South Pacific and holidayed for two weeks in Samoa," she reveals.
“Over the years, I’ve learnt a lot about food storage and the best ways to save food. Whether it’s things like placing spring onions in a little glass of water before putting them in the fridge to keep them fresher for longer or dividing meat into portion sizes before freezing.”
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Kelley has two freezers "because of all the surplus shopping I do, which means we have access to a lot of different types of food.” Alternative food shops have also stopped Kelley’s sons from becoming fussy eaters.
“They have such a varied diet because of all the things I cook. You can’t always guarantee what will be available at the surplus shops, so we eat a lot of different cuisines.”
But the state of the UK’s food production and waste is an issue that still concerns Kelley.
“There are hundreds of thousands of tonnes of food that go to waste and there are so many people living in food poverty. This shouldn’t even be an issue in this country. If there is food that is perfectly safe for human consumption, why is it not getting to humans?”
She recommends the App Too Good to Go. "I also buy from The Real Junk Food Project in Leeds, which is an organisation that uses food that would otherwise have been discarded from supermarkets, restaurants, and other independent food suppliers to produce meals that are sold on a pay what you want basis.”
Keen to do her bit to raise awareness of food waste, Kelley hopes it will encourage more people to use surplus supermarkets. She said: “I have already converted loads of people. All my friends and family are on board and I use social media to spread the word.
“I only ever want to see people succeed at this, because the more people who shop like this, the more beneficial it’s going to be for everybody."
As for what she buys, she explains: “There’s a common misconception that when you buy discounted food, you’re just getting the occasional cheese sandwich or an out-of-date bag of crisps or biscuits. But for us, that’s not the case.
“We’ve increased our vegetable intake because we buy boxes of wonky veg that aren’t selling in normal shops. Everything we buy is really good quality and not only do we feed our family of four, but we cook for my in-laws and my husband’s grandfather too.”
“ What you can do with food is totally up to you and how far you want to stretch your imagination. If you don’t know how to prepare something, watch a YouTube video. You’ll discover that it’s a lot easier than you thought.”
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