As prohibition (which took place in the United States in the 1920s and ’30s) showed us, banning the sale of alcohol does very little to prevent its consumption. The three-tiered lockdown restrictions unveiled by the government on October 12th seem like a modern-day version of those earlier prohibitions, with alcohol sales heavily restricted in areas in the highest tier. However, the mere fact that lockdown restrictions appear to be mainly focused on whether you can go to the pub or not, just shows how much drinking is integral to British culture and the tiered restrictions do not seem to have done much to stop that.
Tier three, the current highest level of restrictions, is at present in place in areas of the North West, South Yorkshire and the East Midlands and will continue to be in place until the UK goes into a national lockdown on November 5th. Under these restrictions, all pubs / bars which do not serve food have been forced to close and in places which do serve food, customers must order a ‘substantial meal’ in order to be able to buy alcohol. This rule was put in place to limit the amount of alcohol consumed by individuals. The problem starts when we admit that many people will do anything to be able to buy a pint and so, will buy food that they have no intention of actually eating — behaviour that only exacerbates food wastage.
The UK already has a huge problem with food waste. A report by WRAP found that in 2018 the UK threw away 6.6 million tonnes of household food waste. Moreover, of the 6.6 million tonnes thrown away, almost three-quarters (70 per cent of the total) was food that could have been eaten (making that 4.5 million tonnes). These shocking figures should be a catalyst for the government to do more to prevent food wastage, not create policies which practically encourage it.
Georgie, an employee at Tenpin, a recently opened bowling alley and food and drinks venue in the centre of Manchester told me: ‘the cheapest “substantial meal” at my work to get the most alcoholic drinks, is a sharing plate of nachos. I have seen so many trays of nachos left completely untouched since the tier three restrictions were introduced. One night a couple even asked me if I wanted their nachos since, they “only got them to buy alcohol”.
Moreover, the Warrington Guardian reported that a pub owner in Lancashire has started serving meals for 1p in order to keep his business open because he, ‘can’t be arsed with listening to the government anymore’. Although, this has helped to keep his business afloat, customers will think nothing of leaving their food uneaten if they have only spent a penny on it. Much of that untouched food will inevitably end up in the bin.
There are also a number of discrepancies over what constitutes a ‘substantial meal’. Everyone has a different metabolism and someone who is slim and 5”2 is obviously going to need far less food to fill them up than someone who is 6”. It seems ludicrous therefore for the government to determine how much people need to eat. For many, a ‘light bite’ or kids-sized portion is more than enough to fill their stomach.
It is heart-breaking to see all of this food go to waste, especially when there are so many people in the UK who are starving. Figures from the FAO UN ‘voices of the Hungry’ report shows that there are 4.7 million people in the UK that live in severely food-insecure homes, which means that their food intake is greatly reduced. It is criminal of the government to sanction food waste and overeating when the economic downturn from the pandemic is perpetually forcing more and more people into poverty.
In July 2020, the government unveiled its ‘obesity strategy’, with the aim of tackling the shocking figure that 63 per cent of UK adults are above a healthy weight. In their report, ‘endless prompts to eat — on TV and on the high street’ are blamed for encouraging people to consume more food than they need. How hypocritical then that a number of the governments’ coronavirus policies (Eat Out to Help Out and having to order a substantial meal to be able to buy alcohol) are exactly the type of thing which they say promotes obesity.
This half-hearted attempt at saving businesses has turned out to be completely fruitless. On October 31st, Boris Johnson announced that a four-week national lockdown was to be put in place from the 5th of November to curb the sharp rise in cases in recent months. However, a report written by SAGE scientists on September 21st (over a month before the Prime Minister’s announcement), called for a national lockdown with immediate effect. The government should have listened to the SAGE advice instead of implementing the flawed tier system, which has been ineffective in curbing cases and has not stopped people from going out and buying alcohol. They must also be more cautious when creating policies and think about the consequences of their proposed restrictions.
Food waste is something which should be taken extremely seriously. If after the national lockdown, some areas return to tier three, let us hope that the rules have been remodelled so that tonnes of unnecessary food will not need to be bought to get one’s hands on a pint.