Research from Edinburgh University is shedding terrible light on just how gross our food waste problem is getting. Researchers claim that a third of fruit and veg produced in the EU never even makes it to supermarket shelves because of cosmetic issues with size or shape.
Food waste has become a growing topic for industry and consumers over the past few years and reported figures on food waste in Europe already looked bad: we throw over 20 percent of our bread away, nearly 40 percent of lettuce, 1.4 million bananas a day in Britain alone. In fact, the average family in the UK wastes around £700 a year on food that is eventually thrown in their bin. However, this new study, published in the Journal of Cleaner Production, shows consumer habits having an even more negative effect on the production, proccesing and retail sections of the food supply chain.
The researchers found that around 50 Tonnes of fruit and veg every year doesn’t even make it onto our shelves, that farmers are often overgrowing to make up for cosmetic quality control, and consumer and supermarket standards are increasing the demand for 'perfect produce'.
There has been new legislation brought in around Europe, with Italy, France and the U.K all bringing in laws to force supermarkets to give food away before it’s thrown in the trash, but what about their role further down the chain? Many large supermarket brands - including: Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco’s and Morrisons - have launched ugly fruit and veg initiatives, with blemished bananas and wonky carrots, but a lot more needs to be done to address what is essentially an issue caused by a population of pampered fussy eaters.
That’s right, as harsh as it sounds, our predisposition for perfection in our apples, for formality in our fruit, that much needed pinch of symmetry in a strawberry, is directly building an annual, mountain-sized pile of rubbish. At the same time, we seemingly revere food like never before, seeking out new dining experiences and avidly following food on TV and social media. We attach ourselves to the story of chefs who make what we eat and sign up for meal-box delivery services that stretch our home cooking knowledge. We pay good money to go on culinary experiences, for cookery classes, to the next big tasting menu, or to tick off one of the major restaurants on the list, yet we can’t see passed a bruised banana? Has this hyped-hysteria, the media feeding frenzy, the constant desire and need for the next, led us to revere but forced us to disrespect food? It’s hard to argue with the figures, which certainly suggest we have.
In 2016, estimates by Eu-Fusions showed around 88 million tonnes of food waste annually, costing around 143 billion euros. America is at about 150,000 Tonnes of food waste every day. The largest factor for this is 'household waste', which in Europe accounted for over 50 percent of all the food thrown away. This is food going from the fridge shelf into the bin. However, the new figures published in the journal show that consumers are also having a major impact on waste in the production and processing of food.
Chefs are superstars, food waste is not sexy, delicious tasting menus are, simple as that. Some chefs are trying to address this with a number of different initiatives like Food for Soul by Massimo Bottura who uses his major public spotlight to promote the hypocrisy of our food chain, and Dan Barber who is now working directly with farmers, encouraging them to breed for flavor and not form alongside his WastED projects. There have also been one-off initiatives aimed at utilizing the largely forgotten 30 percent of fruit and veg that never passes the grade: the so-called ‘ugly’ produce. One such project is a cafe in Germany that only cooks with cast-off ingredients and another is a meal delivery service in New York aimed at distributing cosmetically challenged foods before they go to waste. There are also a whole host of projects aimed at trying to cut or redistribute excess food away from kitchens at the end of service and into the hands of hungry people.
What we need to do as consumers is to drop our fussy attitudes, to simply see past a blemish or misshapen ingredient and know that it can taste just as good as one that looks perfect, in many cases, that the ‘ugly’ one can often taste better. Ask your supermarket for the wonky produce, it’s often cheaper, search for ingredient delivery services that link you to farmers, show your children that all carrots chopped look and taste the same.
The report stated that simply being less picky would have a major impact on food waste, on the damaging impact food production has on the planet and on the climate issues linked with this production. It will also save us all money - so it’s one of those win, wins that’s crazy not to fix. This one is on us: legislation, taxes, regulation and industry will change it, but nothing will shift this mess faster than a change in consumer habits. Because nothing changes a capitalist driven system faster than a healthy slice of juicy demand.