When I was strapped for cash and working in a little town on the East-coast of Australia, I found ways to cut my budget. On my way to the local supermarket, I ambled past a little stall full of fresh bunches of bananas going for 99 cents a kilo. Just down the road in the supermarket, another bunch was being sold for over twice the amount, but what was the difference between the two? Being a lover of fruit and curious, I purchased both.
Well, when I peeled a banana from each bunch, there was no difference. In fact, the cheaper bunch tasted much more delicious since it had been picked fresh that day from the local banana farm. However, the contrast was apparent from the outside.
The supermarket bunch was all the same size, length and colour. The stall bunch was slightly misshapen, with a few green patches, a little less pleasing to the eye but all the more tasty. Needless to say the stall did very well out of me over the following few weeks as in my opinion, their bananas were of greater value for money.
This led me to wonder what on earth has happened to this society. Have we become so fussy that we now discard produce that does not meet our ‘aesthetically pleasing ‘standards, despite being perfectly edible?
Taste not waste
It’s no surprise that we live in a wasteful society. As the world’s population grows, so does the demand for convenience food. Huge supermarket chains are taking over the food industry to supply us with perfect packaged goods. We have become so disconnected from where our food comes from that any fruit or vegetable that looks slightly askew with a few little blemishes, becomes unworthy of our dinner plates. The supermarkets don’t make a profit from these unmarketable misfits, so they are removed before they even hit the shelves.
As stated on thinkeatsave.org –
Nearly 1/2 of all fruit & vegetables produced globally are wasted each year. Global quantitative food waste per year are roughly 30 per cent for cereals, 40-50 per cent for root crops, fruits and vegetables, 20 per cent for oil seeds, meat and dairy plus 30 per cent for fish. Fruits and vegetables, plus roots and tubers have the highest wastage rates of any food.
In recent years, regulations on the appearance of produce have been loosened for suppliers and retailers. On July 1st 2009, the EU simplified the rules, allowing twenty-six types of fruits and vegetables to be covered by general marketing standards, meaning retailers may market them all equally despite some being misshapen.
The European parliament aims to half food waste by 2025 by targeting not only irregular shaped produce but how they are grown, processed, marketed and consumed within every household. First, however, individuals’ awareness and attitudes have to change in order for these improvements to be a success. If we can get the consumer to value the product, then the demand shall grow.
Beauty is in the eye of the consumer
Although steps have been made to give misshapen fruits and vegetables a deserved place on our supermarket shelves, they are still the last ones to be picked, if picked at all. The cosmetically flawless produce still entices the customer more, leaving the blemished ones seem as if they are not fit to be eaten. But what if the unlucky leftovers were given a name and their own unique marketing edge? That was exactly how “Inglorious fruits and vegetables” was born.
Since the European Union voted to make 2014 the “European year against food waste”, Intermarche, the third largest supermarket chain in France, decided to see what would happen if they bought and sold the produce that was normally thrown out by their growers. They gave them their own aisle and a 30% discount to encourage buyers.
Not only did they reduce the price, they came up with catchy and comical names for the stars of the Inglorious fruits and vegetables campaign. The “grotesque apple,” the “ugly carrot” and the “hideous orange” were three of seven celebrity veggies and fruits to star in their own advert.
The two day experiment was a massive success, selling out 1.2 tons of inglorious produce and consequently saving food and money. The campaign is continuing with a line of juice and soups to show people that they are no different from the perfect looking foods.
This clever initiative increased the public’s awareness of food waste. It had a huge impact on the media and ignited discussions on social networking sites. Since the campaign was launched it has inspired many across the globe to take on this fresh and healthy approach to food waste.
A global issue
Doug Rauch, the former president of the Trader Joe’s Company, is launching the Daily Table, a grocery store situated in Roxbury, Boston, a known place of low income and desperation. His plan is to salvage unwanted foods from grocery stores and sell to customers who otherwise would not get the opportunity to access them.
A study from the United States Department of Agriculture states –
The estimated total value of food loss at the retail and consumer levels in the United States was $161.6 billion in 2010. In developed countries like the United States, a relatively larger share of food loss occurs at the consumer end of the spectrum. Food accounts for a relatively smaller share of household incomes, and consumers typically demand a wide variety of high-quality, cosmetically appealing, and convenient foods. As a result, blemished, misshapen, or wrong-sized foods are often discarded to meet minimum quality standards.
After three decades in the grocery business and seeing firsthand the effect of America’s food waste contribution, Rauch retired four years ago to find a solution to the problem he has devoted so much time to.
In the near future I hope to see such creative ideas in every supermarket chain. Saving not only precious food but money for the growers, stores and consumers, I can’t see how this idea could fail. Now is the time for us to take action on the world’s waste issues and shed our shallow beliefs on misshapen produce. After all, none of us are perfect, so why does our food have to be?