In the last few years, supermarkets have been trying to help with the anti-food waste campaign that is spreading throughout the country.
Certain shops have pledged to donate unsold items to food banks, inspired by French legislation which forbids any edible food to be thrown away. While this is admirable, it looks unlikely that the UK will pass such a law any time soon. While the big shops certainly have a lot to answer for when it comes to the way they promote and date their food, there is also a move to encourage shoppers to approach their produce purchasing more thoughtfully.
Although the amount of food thrown away in the home makes up the smallest portion of total food waste, the largest is at the food manufacturing stage. It may seem as though we as consumers don’t have much of a say in the 1.8 million tonnes of food wasted in manufacture, but our expectations of how the ‘perfect’ produce should look does play a part in what makes it to market. It is often supermarkets which enforce the standards of what can be accepted onto manufacturers, despite there no longer being government regulations that require them to do so.
Produce at the manufacturing stage can be rejected for a variety of reasons - not straight enough, not long enough, and most surprisingly - too big! None of these factors affect the taste or quality, although they can sometimes lead to rather amusing shapes which it seems supermarkets would rather avoid us seeing! As home growers and farmers’ market goers will know, fruit and vegetables come in all kinds of curious shapes and sizes. From carrots and parsnips that have two crossed legs, to curly courgettes and tomatoes that seem ready to burst at the seams, there is a huge variation.
The desire for uniform food has become a Catch 22. Supermarkets sell it, so people accept that it must be the best produce; then supermarkets have to continue to sell it because customers won’t buy anything that looks different. While they are definitely making small moves to introduce fruit and veg that they call ‘wonky’ or ‘ugly’, they are still far behind local markets and farm shops which have always been proud to offer fruit and veg in all their forms. By buying locally, we can continue to support farms that don’t contribute to the many tonnes of food waste.
Restaurants are playing their part too. Chefs who source their ingredients locally and proudly display this fact are beginning to allow the variation to make it to the plate. This is another great move in celebrating the rich diversity of our land’s crops.
Once you learn to embrace nature’s weird and wonderful, there is one issue that may arise. What to do with those little odds, ends, and knobbles? My favourite solution is to throw them all into a pot with water and herbs, and boil until you have a delicious stock that you can use as a base for your favourite soups and gravies.