The Scandal of Food Waste

Who Wastes Food?

We live in a fortunate part of a planet with over six billion people on it. I know that I can say ‘we’ because if you’re reading this it is on a computer and to have a computer means you’re fortunate.

In the UK our food supply system is an oligopoly – dominated by the supermarket chains. (An oligopoly is a market dominated by a few large suppliers.) Since these supermarkets control the food supply they must be responsible for waste – or are we, the consumers to blame?

Supermarket Standards

The supermarkets operate very strict objective standards for the fresh foods they supply to us. They know that we have become used to unblemished vegetables in standard shapes, sizes and colours. They define these in great detail, how long a carrot can be, how wide, what shape, what weight and so forth.

So the farmer has to grow, as far as he is able, to that standard. There’s no doubt that this is an easier task for farmers using chemicals than organic growers. Don’t forget that the farmer has access to chemicals that gardeners can not get hold of or use legally.

A Small Experiment with Carrots

So, if you dig up a row of carrots, try this. Discard the largest and smallest. Discard any with marks on the outside, slightly nibbled by a slug and so forth. Discard any that have forked or bent, in other words that are not the ideal shape for the variety.

How many have you left? Thought so!

Rejection of Food as Not to Standard

It’s no surprise to find out that an organic farmer growing carrots can reasonably expect between 40% and 60% of his carrots to be rejected. Nothing wrong with them except that they fall outside of the laid down specifications.

Hopefully, he can use most of those carrots to feed animals but it explains why there is such a premium on organic produce. It’s not just carrots, of course. You name the vegetable and they have a laid down standard, Lord forbid that a slug be found in a potato or a caterpillar in a cabbage.

You might think these vegetables are inspected by some buyer casting an experienced eye over an open sack. Think again – the delivery is made to a reception plant where incredibly sophisticated and expensive computer-controlled machines grade each and every potato or whatever than comes down a conveyor belt. Rejection is automatic and without appeal.

Not only is the product wasted, but the energy that went into growing it, from tractor fuel to the energy in making and shipping fertiliser or manure is wasted. Finally the energy in transporting the food to the grading point is wasted and, if shipped back to the farmer, yet more waste. Incredible!

You might think that’s the end of the waste, but it’s not. Having been graded and packed, the produce has yet to reach the supermarket shelf. This can mean that those carrots have to travel hundreds of miles to a distribution centre. Of course, some will be damaged in transit. Boxes dropped scattering carrots onto the floor from where they will end up in a bin rather than another box. Not a lot, but yet more waste.

Supermarket Distribution Systems

Once at the distribution centre, our box of carrots has to wait for a supermarket to need it. Wait too long and they’re considered past their best saleable condition and so end up in a skip. Yet more waste.

Once they reach the supermarket shelf you might think the waste is ended, but not so. If they’re not sold in time then, you guessed it, they become waste.

So, our carrot has complied with the laid down standards, survived being shipped up and down the country and has finally reached your house. Is that the end of it?

25% Food Waste in the Home

Over 25% of perishable foods purchased in the UK are not eaten. They’re thrown away without even coming out of the packet. More often than vegetables it’s foodstuffs like yoghurts and cheeses that hid in the back of the fridge but the surveys have shown that appalling figure of 25%.

So, do we blame the supermarket for supplying what we demand? or do we blame the supermarket for setting the standard we demand? or do we blame ourselves for being overly demanding and not seeing beyond appearance? Certainly for 25% of the waste we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Posted in Rants and Raves
4 comments on “The Scandal of Food Waste
  1. sarah m says:

    I agree with all of your comments on this, the wastage of veg is horrendous! I thought I’d add a comment (slightly) in the defence of the supermarkets, or at least one of them. I work for the supermarket Aldi in the warehouse and all fruit and veg that comes in to us is shipped out to stores the same day to give customers the best shelf life possible and quality. Any stock in the warehouse that is about to go out of date we send out to a company that distributes it to the homeless. So there’s at least one warehouse doing its bit to stop the waste of food. I really hope other supermarkets do this but sadly I doubt it!

  2. John says:

    I didn’t know that about Aldi – do love their Thursday offers though! More power to them and thanks for your comment.
    I said 25% food waste in the home but in the paper on Sunday they were saying a third. Incredible.

  3. David says:

    I think now slop buckets have been introduced this will go a long way in reducing food waste.

    • John says:

      @David: I understand the food waste is going to anaerobic digester systems which is like composting it. It’s actually illegal to feed waste food that contains or has been in contact with meat to pigs. Even your own pigs.

      A panic regulation due to disease from illegal imported meat waste from a Chinese takeaway being fed to pigs.

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