I spend a lot of time looking at waste.
Waste that comes out the “other end”…all in the name of science :-).
You can find out a lot about digestion (and a person/cow/pig/whatever) by what is remaining in their “waste” or what has disappeared… fascinating stuff really.
But more than working out backwards what is happening where along the digestive tract, my research in waste has led me to another zone of food wastage…the zone where we actually discard food. You know, where we throw it away. Get rid of it. Because we don’t want to eat it anymore. It looks “bad”. Has a “soft” spot. A bit of fur. We bought more than we needed.
I’ve been reading an interesting report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations on Food wastage.
Here are a few of their key findings:
1. 1.3 BILLION TONNES of food is wasted or lost around the world each year;
2. Most of the wastage in developed countries happens at the AGRICULTURE, PROCESSING and CONSUMPTION stages…!!!
3. Most of the wastage in developing countries happens at the agriculture+harvest stage.
Fascinating really. With all our technological advancements, we’ve become more fussy in what we consider looks good for us to eat, or not.
As consumers in the developed world, we demand that oranges, bananas, mangoes, avocadoes etc. sold to us needs to be blemish free. No marks on the skin (even though we don’t eat the skin…)
Our capsicums, apples, pears, corn, tomatoes, apricots, green beans etc… need to be uniform in shape and of a uniformly bright colour.
Our carrots, cucumbers and zucchinis need to be straight, not too long or wide, and of uniform colour so we can store them easily in the fridge, cut up into nice straight crudites and present prettily… It’s all about the appearance really…duh!!
I watched a documentary not too long ago on how cucumbers are grown in the UK. As a food scientist I found the degree of dedication to the quality assurance team in ensuring long, straight cucumbers fascinating. The scientist side of me is intrigued.
Yet the reality side of me is equally intrigued… Okay I understand the benefit and need for perfect appearance when going for a job interview, first date, meeting with the Queen or heading to an Oprah Winfrey show interview. Visual appearance is everything.
But is it really suitable for us to impose our “visual perfection” rule to fresh produce? And some poor bent cucumber ends up getting binned because it is bent, not because it is nutritionally inferior..? Seriously this whole body image thing has gone a bit too far now that we’re imposing our picture perfectness on our food supply… like really???
We worry about global warming. Argue over pesticides and organics. I’m not saying that those issues are irrelevant-of course they are important!!
But are we missing some of the really major, yet very simply to address grassroots issues (like food wastage) in our quest for “great” things?
And so we willingly throw over a BILLION TONNES of food away every year – and this is mainly a developed country problem.
The developing countries are not so fussy. Unfortunately their lack the harvest and storage technology is the general cause of food wastage. In the developed world, we do not lack technology or equipment. What we do seem to lack on the other hand is common sense to look at food as simply that – food. A source of nutrition for the body. No matter how pretty it looks on the shelf, it sure does NOT look pretty when it comes out the other end…
When you put it into perspective, that’s A LOT of pasta boxes, olive oil Olympic swimming pools, salmons, cows, apples, eggs and potato sacks… You can read more about nitty gritty of food wastage and what you can do to get involved @ http://www.fao.org/save-food/savefood/en/
Collectively I think as consumers we need to slow down on imposing our picture perfect body image appearance ideals onto our food supply.
We also need to eat with our stomach and not with our eyes… When you get in tune with how much food you can eat, you tend to stop over-piling the plate and the trolley.
In order to raise awareness of our mindlessly careless pursuit of wasting food, European photographer Klaus Pichler has done an amazing project called “One Third.”
Pichler takes artistic portraits of commonly wasted foods, in all their mouldy glory plus also calculates the carbon footprint needed to get the food onto our table…or more likely into our bins.
It’s a fantastic display of artistic creativity.
But also highlights the common-ness of food wastage, the actual cost of those mouldy lemons I threw out on the weekend (oh they looked sooooo good, bright and yellow and whilst 2 lemons would have sufficed my fish for the last few weeks I had to buy 10… resulting in discarding ~50% due to blemishes that I couldn’t be bothered with cutting off… really???)
Check out Pichler’s One Third project here: http://www.kpic.at/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=45&Itemid=88
You won’t be disappointed. And you’ll most definitely learn something.
So next time you think of buying a whole bunch of celery, think about will you single person really eat all of if it? Consider how much you will actually throw out in your contribution to global food wastage?
…maybe that 1/2 bunch of celery with the crooked stalks is starting to look better…