Across Europe alone, more than a third of all fruit and vegetables are discarded every year as they have been deemed to be too ugly to sell, according to recent research conducted by the University of Edinburgh.
The quality and taste of these produce are similar, if not the same, as regular looking produce, yet the difference is that they were unable to meet government regulations on size and shape as well as supermarkets’ expectation of how produce should look.
While ease of access to plentiful, affordable food threatens to become an issue for future generations, today we are being picky with how produce looks – to the extent that we are wasting over 50 million tonnes of fruit and vegetables, equivalent to the carbon emissions of approximately 400,000 cars, according to the study. This ironic situation should lead many to wonder whether we are being too fussy and whether it makes sense from a sustainability viewpoint to be more relaxed with our expectations of how produce should look.
The situation will change in the future, driven by pressure from both climate change and heightened awareness about the ramifications of food waste. There are already a number of initiatives. Supermarkets across the UK such as Lidl and Morrisons have been selling ‘wonky vegetables’ for a number of years – and with success as Morrisons attributes this as a cause of their recent strong growth. There have also been start-ups such as Wonky Veg Boxes which deliver wonky vegetable boxes to consumers’ doorsteps. Alongside this there is Tesco’s Waste NOT juice, which will use wonky fruit and vegetables in cold-pressed juice to help reduce food waste. Tesco is aiming to save 3.5 tonnes of waste fruit and vegetables in 12 weeks.
Are we doing enough?
Wonky vegetables have been a feature in supermarkets for several years, yet the problem of wasting ‘ugly’ fruit and vegetables persists. A lack of consistent government initiative within Europe means retailers are not obliged to tackle the issue of food waste. Investments have been made from supermarkets across Europe to tackle this issue but there can be an issue of availability of these produce in stores as they are often sold considerably cheaper than the ‘perfect’ counterparts. As for consumers, they might not be aware of wonky veg initiatives and if they are, they may have unease about using ‘ugly’ produce which casts doubt about quality and makes them less likely to purchase.
In order to resolve this issue both governments and businesses need to be more proactive in encouraging consumers to become less picky and change their perceptions, so it becomes front of mind for consumers that all produce, regardless of appearance, is still edible. This will help tackle food waste and reduce the stress placed upon food production as well as helping farmers and suppliers across Europe and globally.