One third of the food we produce in this world is lost/wasted before consumption. Imagine making three cakes and just putting one of them straight into the bin. Seems crazy; and it is. The amount of food we waste in industrialised countries, is almost equal to the net amount of food that Sub-Saharan Africa produces.
The Roots Of Wastage
Food is wasted from the word go. Envisage the journey of an apple grown in New Zealand, and sold in England. When the apple tree seeds are sewn, some seeds are wasted. When the tree grows, not all the apples are picked; some don’t meet the requirements needed, whether that be size, colour, or shape. When the apples get to the supplier from the farm, they are packed into boxes ready to be shipped, some apples will be wasted at this stage too. The apples are shipped to England and arrive at a pack house. Some apples are destructively tested on intake to ensure they’re of the correct quality. Apples are then stored, and when needed packed into retailers packaging. During this process there are apples removed for defects. The apples get to the store and are put on the shelf. Some get sold, some don’t. Those that don’t get sold become waste. When the apples are at the customer’s house, they might get eaten, or they might become waste. There are so many processes involved in just a single fruit, imagine this for a multi-ingredient product.
As a consumer, there are wastes that we are not in control of however, the two main wastes we can help to minimise are store waste, and waste at our homes. As well as this we can help to influence what is ‘accepted’ by us, and therefore reduce the amount of food that becomes waste just because of the way it looks.
Supply and Demand
You may think, that the food that is on the shelf in your supermarket has already been made, and therefore, if you don’t buy it and waste it at home, it will only be wasted at store. But, demand drives supply, and if we were to stop buying the food that we wasted, the demand for that food would decrease, and a decrease in supply would follow. We, as customers, can be the ones to drive a more efficient and effective supply chain, and it’s as simple as only buying the food that we are going to eat. This merely requires some planning, or logical thinking. We all shop very differently, it depends on our age, our lifestyle, who we live with, our budget, the time we have, and much more. For example, a family of 5 is likely to plan meals and have food ready in the house, whereas a single student might be more likely to be less prepared and shop as they need. Though we all shop differently, we all have the common objective of buying food to eat. No one buys food to put it in the bin, yet too many of us do just that.
Once we have made the decision to buy the food, I think the main reason for waste, is lack of common sense. From my experience at uni, living with a communal kitchen, I learnt a lot about the way people decide when a food is good to eat, and when it’s not. The amount of people who let the date printed on the pack decide if that food is too old or not, is amazing. Of course, use it as a guideline, or to identify which pot of yoghurt is the oldest and needs to be eaten first, but to throw away a perfectly good product because someone who is in an office thousands of miles away told you how long that individual product would last, is silly. I understand that meat is more of a concern when it comes to risking the sell by date because of associated illnesses, but fruit/vegetables, I really don’t understand. If a broccoli looks alright, and it smells alright, there is nothing wrong with it, whatever the date on it says.
It’s not about being able to plan your meals so that you only ever cook exactly the right amount, it’s being able to use what you have left over, so that it doesn’t become waste.
— Esiah Levy (@CroydonGardener) September 26, 2017
There has been raised awareness of waste through the recognition of ‘ugly fruit’ – fruit and veg that would have once just been waste is now being sold cheaper in several supermarkets because though it doesn’t meet the industry’s cosmetic standards, it tastes just the same. Imagine if something was growing humans to sell the same way as we sell fruit. First they would agree on a perfect looking human, characters such as weight, height and skin colour would define the ‘perfect human’. From then on, any human that did not fit the ‘human specification’ would be rejected. Now, if you’re lucky, you’d be sold as an ‘ugly human’ for a little less money. Seems weird when the ‘ugly humans’ function the same as the perfect humans? It’s the same concept as fruit and veg.
Whether we change shopping habits, learn to use leftovers, buy ‘ugly’ fruit and veg, or simply use our own initiative rather than relying on ‘best before’ dates, everyone can help to reduce the amount of food they waste. Having had some time working in the food industry, I can assure you, more thought, planning and care has gone into the food you buy than you think. Make all that effort worthwhile, and the money you earn well spent, by reducing your food waste today.