Today, the fashion industry makes their business out of selling the ideal of beauty; an ideal that affects the self-esteem of people in our society causing insecurity and body complexes. Fighting against this ideal presented in magazines, bran brands like Dove, Dear Kate and Modcloth focus on more natural ways of beauty to demonstrate how perfectly imperfect a person can be.
Although the comparison might seem strange, fruits and vegetables face similar problems during their life because of their appearance; rejection is a common problem from the moment they are grown to the moment they are delivered to the consumer. During the whole supply chain, they face the challenge of being thrown away when not meeting the standards demanded by society. Similar to the fashion industry, there are secondary effects and little support of brands to fight back. As more fruits and vegetables are produced, more waste is generated.
When rejection happens
While enjoying an apple in the morning or a salad during lunch, have you ever thought about the amount of resources and time needed for your food to get to you? Do you know if your meals are nutritious? Most of us enjoy our meals without awareness of the food we are eating.
Around 15 million tonnes of food is wasted every year in the UK. Food waste happens for different reasons and is presented at different stages such as farming, retail and consumer; 27% of the total waste comes from the retail sector whereas 50% comes from households.
Across the retail sector confusion has emerged between quality and appearance, where bright colours, a perfect surface or bigger sizes determine the quality of vegetables and fruits, rather than flavour or nutriments. The retail sector rejects 30% of fresh vegetables
and fruits due to minor aesthetic imperfections, as if rare shapes could have an impact on flavour or health; this represents 200 thousand tonnes wasted every year. To put it in perspective, the average elephant weighs 6 tonnes, which means per year the UK is wasting the same weight as 33,000 elephants in fruits and vegetables.
Once the fruits and vegetables meet the retailers´ standards and hit the consumers, the probabilities for these products to become waste do not disappear. Today, people are afraid to consume food that might be spoiled, but what makes food edible or not edible? Most of the time the life cycle of fruits and vegetables is longer than what we think; so these goods are rejected and become waste in our homes as a result of our mind-set related to age, gender, culture or society.
Internationally, as an effect of population growth a question emerges: ‘would there be enough food available for everyone in the future?’. Leading organisations (e.g. United Nations) promote conversations and action plans focused on how to produce more food for the next generations. At the same time it is important to remember that the solution is not only about producing more food, but also about consuming the food we already produce efficiently. We, as a society, can be part of the solution, the first steps are to be aware that food waste is a serious problem and to be honest to ourselves.
- What standard do I use to determine when food is un-edible?
- Are my choices for uneatable food something that could be changed?
- What else could I do with that un-edible food?
Baby steps can make a difference
Going back to the supply chain of fruits and vegetables, the main reason for food wasted from farms and the retail sector is simply because it does not fit the standards. As a result, the waste ends up in landfills causing environment degradation and soil erosion. Supermarkets do not want to talk about the food they are throwing away and try to hide this problem.
Even so, solutions to food waste can confront large business and challenge them to make different decisions towards their processes.
“The greatest challenges can become greatest business opportunities”
-Michael Poland (see video for more)
For six weeks, I participated in the University of Sheffield Social Innovation Lab and worked with a group of five women to develop a business idea. We focused our project on the problem of waste in the retail sector (addressed before) and created “Jam-fill”. The vision is to create delicious products by collecting the fruits and vegetables from farmers, restaurants, cafes and supermarkets before they are thrown away. With this brand, we believe we can reduce food waste by building partnerships with the agricultural and retail sector.
This is not about rotten or spoiled fruits and vegs, but about the fresh food that does not fit standards that so are thrown away but could have been eatable. The aim of these products is to decrease the contribution to food waste in landfills and to encourage people to be aware of their impact on their environment through food waste. This project won first prize in the Social Innovation Lab and would become something real in the future. Some members want to take action soon.
Don´t chuck me, chutney!
Over six weeks with five women and no resources, an idea to take action was created. As an entrepreneur imagine what you could do with the proper time and funding! What could happen if you gave every fruit or veggie a different purpose before getting rid of it? A good starting point is to take small actions in your home:
- Stop procrastination; eat left overs as soon as possible so they do not end in the trash.
- Create homemade jam from fruits and veggies that you think are not as good as before.
- Feed your pets with the food you are not eating (of course things they can eat).
- Start a compost bin and grow your garden in a natural way.