Why are we punished for eating alone?

Published by Esther Rantzen on 11 June 2012.
Last updated on 14 June 2012

Compost heap

So here I am, at 71, single - again. I remember what it felt like the last time around, in my teens and 20s, and it was quite fun. I was treated like a precious natural resource, chatted up at parties, whistled at whenever I passed a building site.

I suppose now that might be considered sexual harassment. Then it just felt like an appreciative greeting from a bored builder clinging to some scaffolding. But now, at my advanced age, being single is not nearly such fun. Not only is it a social crime but it's also extremely expensive - especially when it comes to food shopping.

Cooking for one

When I cook for myself at home I find it impossible to avoid throwing away vast quantities of uneaten food. Fresh food comes in packs of sturdy joints of meat, enough to last me a week, or a multiplicity of chops, steaks or fish - very rarely one portion on its own.

Even ready meals are usually designed for two people. And the odd meal-for-one you can track down is rarely half the price of its two-person cousin. So us singletons are effectively fined for dining alone.

The supermarkets have a ploy specially designed to tempt you into buying far more than you need - you pick up one bag of mandarins and the label shouts at you 'buy one, get one free'. So you succumb, and the extra little oranges sit in a bowl until they are covered with mould.

The same with the dried-up carcase of chicken you roasted, hoping it would still be succulent tomorrow. It's not, so in the bin it goes! And the uneaten half of that shepherd's pie I had on Sunday ended up on a plate in the fridge, covered with cling film until it glued itself to the plate and had to be scraped off and thrown out, too.

Throwing money away

Sadly, I've got used to this chucking away food malarkey – and I'm not alone. It's estimated that in Britain we throw away, and waste, 4.4 million tonnes of food each year, according to government figures. We chuck away 32% of the bread we buy, 24% of our vegetables, 20% of our fruit and 17% of our cereals. Just think of that in money, it's huge.

Some of it is due, of course, to the tyranny of the sell-by date. But judging by my experience, it's also due to the impossibility of buying only as much as you actually need.

You might think that the internet – that treasure trove of infinite variety - would be able to cater for us singletons. But, no. You can buy portions for two, four, six or even 18, gluten-free, nut-free, organic if you wish, but nothing for one person.

Please don't tell me the freezer is the answer. I buy four salmon steaks at a time, as you have to, cook one and freeze the rest. As a result, my freezer is like those fridges American billionaires use to preserve their bodies to be resuscitated come Judgment Day – only mine is filled with the corpses of salmon and casseroles, rock hard and covered with a thick layer of snow.

So I will continue on my present diet of cheese and biscuits – tasty and there won't be anything left to bin.

Esther Rantzen is a renowned broadcaster and founder of ChildLine. Email her at columnists@moneywise.co.uk

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