Tonnes of perfectly good food are thrown away in the UK every year. Why, asks Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.That's a jolly good question... why does it happen, and are we as consumers at fault or is there something else going on?
Apparently the supermarkets demand of growers that their produce conforms to a certain standard laid down by the supermarkets themselves. Now you might reasonably think that means it needs to be damage free and disease free, but no, apparently it is more than that. Each item has to pass their cosmetic test - how it looks, what size it is, shape, colour etc... all appear to be expected to be standardised. Which is, as anyone who has grown their own produce will tell you, just plain barmy! Vegetables reflect their growing conditions, so even in the same field (or garden) adjacent plants can (and do) produce different results. With root vegetables it is even more variable than crops above ground, as stones, pests and dry patches can all affect the final product.
So if we as consumers understand that not every carrot or potato or beetroot can be identical to every other one, why do supermarkets decide that otherwise perfectly good sound crops fail their tests and reject them? If there is no valid reason for rejecting the crop on the grounds of usability, and having inspected part of it Hugh F-W says he would gladly have used them, then what other reason could there be for the rejection?
Are supermarkets playing fast and loose with the livelihoods of growers? Do they contract with more growers than they have a need for, as insurance in case some fail? Or is there another, as yet undiscovered, reason for this? If so, what?
Hugh F-W went on to say that, "Approximately one-third of the food we produce in the UK is never eaten." That is a shocking statistic and one which should stop us in our tracks. One-third of all produce is wasted, rejected, or binned yet we have people in this country who cannot afford to buy food and who have to rely on food banks for essentials!
So why does it matter?
Apart from our natural outrage at such profligate waste, there is the effect that the rejection has on the livelihood of the grower. If a grower is losing sales of up to 40% of their annual crop they will not be able to stay in business. A loss of that amount of income simply makes the business unsustainable, and if growers stop growing then we will end up either having to import more food from outside the UK or pay higher prices as the amount of products on sale decreases (basic supply and demand.)
So what can we do about it?
Well we could make our feelings known to supermarkets. They need to get the message from us that we don't mind if parsnips have variations in thickness, if some carrots are longer than others, if beetroot or cauli's don't all look identical, that so long as vegetables are usable we are happy. They are vegetables to be eaten, not entrants into a beauty pageant! We also need to tell them that we don''t like the waste that their cosmetic selection causes. And we need them to understand that they don't have the right to drive growers to the brink of insolvency just so they can ensure a stock of fresh veg!
OK, so here's an idea...
How about writing a letter or sending an email to the Head Office of each supermarket chain in the UK, setting out your concern about this issue and asking what their policy is on the cosmetic selection of fruit and vegetables? Tell them that you feel it is a step too far and that you are quite happy to buy products which have natural variations. And make the point that you do not expect their cosmetic buying policies to result in the demise of British growers!
You can find a list of current UK supermarkets on Wikipedia and as they mostly have websites, your friendly search engine will be able to supply the contact addresses to write to. If you get a response why not let me know via the Comments box below?