A little while ago, I found myself scrolling down my Facebook feed—as is (often) my wont—and I found a video about a supermarket in France who have begun to sell the produce that is usually deemed too unattractive for consumers to buy. The project, called “Les Fruits et Legumes Moche” (or “The Inglorious Fruits”), was set to coincide with the “European Year Against Food Waste”—a movement championed by the European Union to raise awareness of the ever-growing issue that is food wastage.
Watching this video made me incredibly happy—and not just because there’s a part of me that feels delighted that the underdogs of the vegetable world are getting their time to shine. “Beauty isn’t everything!” cries the voice in my head. “Beautiful oranges are not the only type of orange!” Ah, yes: I’ve been taught well by the Dove campaigns, alright. But aesthetics aside, this project shows a real shift in modern attitudes towards food waste. Finally people are ready to pay attention to a subject we really shouldn’t be throwing out.
“The Inglorious Fruits” project is a really fantastic initiative. Not only is it saving a whole lot of perfectly decent produce from being needlessly wasted, but it’s opening up a greater conversation about food waste in general. We all know that it’s a problem, but it’s not something that gets a lot of news coverage, and we don’t tend to bring it up in daily conversation. After all, why talk about a bin full of rotting turnips when we could be chatting about celebrity weight loss, or Hollywood’s millionth attempt to make Planet of the Apes happen?
The UK government recently released some shocking statistics that show how much of the food that Britons eat goes to waste. We’d assume that the majority of food waste comes from restaurants and supermarkets—but did you know that almost 50 percent of the total amount of food thrown away (in the U.K.) comes from people’s homes? Brits throw away 7 million tonnes of food and drink from their homes every year—and more than half of this could have been eaten. Americans are no better: A 2004 study showed that 40 to 50 percent of all food ready for harvest in the United States never gets eaten.
Let’s just recap, a sec: Nearly half our food goes to waste. Think of all the people in the world that go hungry every day. In third-world countries, the majority of food wasted happens as a result of poor agricultural techniques and lack of resources. In richer countries, however, food waste is—for the mostpart—a direct consequence of behavior. Food is discarded post-harvest in processing, transportation, the retail environment (supermarkets and restaurants), and people’s kitchens. Even in more affluent societies, however, there are still vast numbers of people who live in poverty, and our atrocious, wasteful behavior only contributes to their suffering. Loss of food over the course of the production/consumption chain ultimately pushes food prices higher, and produce that is wrongly deemed unfit for sale is thrown away instead of being redistributed (at a lower cost) to poorer families. Not to mention the needless exacerbation of the global water crisis, and the wasted energy that ultimately contributes to climate change. Some (ahem) food for thought, I suppose.
Much as I’d love to rattle off statistics and bang on about poverty, the environment, and all those nasty side effects of excessive consumerism, we could be here all day. Instead let’s wind it back in and suggest simply that food waste is bad, and it’s time to start making some ch-ch-ch-changes. What “The Inglorious Fruits” shows us is that, as consumers, we have more power than we think. The public response to the campaign spoke for itself: the people bought the ugly fruit, and showed that they care along with it. The collection of these small, everyday gestures—as simple as buying a contorted carrot—sent a simple, strong message to the powers-that-be… and they also just help the situation one little bit at a time.
So, how can we improve the situation? By making small changes in our everyday lives. We need to integrate that “waste not, want not” mentality into our routines. Thrifting and frugality need to become habits, rather than quaint commodities. For example: we buy second-hand clothes occasionally, so that we might have a “vintage” piece to boast about in our #OOTD. We save tonight’s pizza for tomorrow morning’s hungover breakfast. But most of the food we take home in boxes, the leftover dregs of dinner and the veg that’s edging towards its use-by date… mostly we throw it away. It’s not cute or cool to be that conscious. We find ourselves filling our trash cans with the leftovers—rather than our stomachs.
I’m not trying to recreate loathsome childhood memories of sitting at the dining table, being forced to eat every last scrap of dinner. Instead, what I’m saying is that we need to think—can I make two meals out of this chicken? Will I eat the rest of this enormous entrée for lunch tomorrow? Do I really need to buy two punnets of strawberries? As a society, we need to start a shift in attitude towards buying, storing, cooking and eating food that will set the scene for a less wasteful food culture.
My plea to you, darling reader, is to put your noggin to some good use when you’re perusing a menu or throwing things into your supermarket
trolley cart. Lead by example and push yourself to cultivate new habits. The golden rules? Recycle everything. Think minimally. Be smart.
…And, of course, buy ugly.