According to the United Nations’ Food Agriculture Organisation, 1.3 billion tonnes, equivalent to a third of all food produced in the world, is lost in the supply chain or wasted.
Each year in Europe and the USA, about 900KG of food is produced for each person. Yet of this 280 to 300KG is discarded between farm and fork.
In the UK, millions of tonnes of perfectly good food is destroyed before it even leaves the farm.
The Hammonds, a farm featured on Hugh Fernley Whittingstall’s ‘Hugh’s War on Waste’, informed the viewers that the price of a bag of standard parsnips had dropped by 15p for consumers in only two years. This wasn’t the biggest part of the problem however, parsnips simply aren’t making it into the bags. If vegetables are ‘wonky’, too big, too small or too short they won’t make the cut. To put it into perspective, from this one farm, 20 tonnes (280 shopping trolleys full) of parsnips are wasted every week.
The reason for all of this…cosmetic standards.
Almost all supermarket fruit and vegetables are graded using strict cosmetic standards, which define to the millimetre exactly what is acceptable for retail. The good news is that some of the food that doesn’t make it to the next round of the beauty contest can be used as animal feed or into soup or salads but unfortunately, the rest is left to rot.
Most farms are producing at cost due to losing so much of their crop to these strict cosmetic standards and it doesn’t stop at parsnips. There are many more examples of fruit and veg being refused by retailers and brands simply because they’re not pretty enough for the supermarket shelves. Lettuce is discarded if the outer leaves are not up to scratch and apples, which are too ‘rosy’, are rejected too.
It isn’t consumers setting the bar with these high cosmetic standards. In fact, in most cases consumers are unlikely to even notice. According to Feedback Global, in 2012, due to a poor potato harvest, the UK had no choice but to sell cosmetically ‘imperfect’ potatoes in retail. However lo and behold, sales didn’t even alter; consumers bought the potatoes just the same.
Following much noise and campaigning from celebrity chefs, such as Hugh and Jamie Oliver, retailers are beginning to listen.
Asda was first to respond in January when, with the support of Jamie Oliver and Jimmy Doherty, it launched its £3.50 Wonky Veg boxes in more than 550 stores across the UK. According to the retailer’s customer research, 65% of their customers are open to the idea of wonky veg.
Morrison’s followed suit, when after being crisitised about its food waste levels, their misshapen vegetables made a re-appearance on the shelves. British retailer Waitrose also introduced a misshapen seasonal vegetable range including crooked carrots, imperfect parsnips and peculiar potatoes, whilst also insisting that they have stocked ‘imperfect’ produce in the past.
Cosmetically ‘imperfect’ or ‘ugly’ produce may be slightly harder to prepare but at the end of the day let’s be practical - it all tastes the same on our plate and in our tummy. Consumers need to continue to welcome all of our glorious home-grown produce with open arms whatever its shape and size to support our British farmers. What’s more it’s Veggie Month – there’s no better time to start showing our appreciation!