Waste, Waste Everywhere and Not a Thing to Eat

Recently I was buying produce at the grocery store. As I stood there, checking dozens of each type of fruit and vegetable before selecting the best, I realized something: I wasn’t the only one doing that. I glanced up and saw at least 20 other women (sorry, guys, I’m sure you do it too!) standing around bins overflowing with fresh produce, digging through for the most flawless cucumber, apple, or onion. I immediately eliminate the bruised, discolored, or otherwise tainted options and occasionally abandon the challenge altogether if none of it seems good enough. I understand that this sounds normal and fine. I thought so too until the last 24 hours.

But wait…

If all of us do this – reject the imperfect – then what happens to it all? Also, what about the overabundance on the shelf? It goes bad on my counter, why not at the store? What about all the produce the store rejects before it even appears as an option?

The answer to these questions and many more, even while nearly 1 in 6 Americans struggle to get food on the table? Throw it out.

But hey, it’s just food right? That’s part of the problem. Most Americans are so accustomed to food being inexpensive and readily available that they have no qualms with wasting unbelievable amounts of it. Approximately 40% of food gets thrown out in the US each year; that’s about $165 billion rotting in the landfills while millions of Americans sit at empty dinner tables. The grocery stores and our incessant need for the best and most perfect aren’t the only things to blame though. Food is wasted and lost at every step of the process and in every restaurant, school cafeteria, and home. According to the National Resources Defense Council, if we could save even 15% of the loss, we could drastically improve the lives of America’s hungry.

As I researched this issue, becoming more and more disturbed and deeply convicted by my own entrenchment in the cause of it, I began to see that I wasn’t the only one wanting to make a change. In fact, many countries in the European Union and the United Kingdom have already began to come up with solutions. One such solution is currently being employed and advertised by French supermarket Intermarch√©. They began a social media campaign called “Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables” that encourages consumers to purchase the “damaged” or disfigured produce. They recognized that there was an issue and they decided to buy the product that no other store would buy and offer at 30% discount to customers. They distributed juices and soups made with the “inglorious” produce in order to change people’s minds about the quality of the often rejected fruits and vegetables. And it worked. In fact, it has worked so well that they are struggling to keep those shelves stocked and have seen a huge increase in business. People appreciate that they are trying to do something to cut waste.

This makes me both hopeful and discouraged. I am hopeful because I see that there is a model with proven success. However, having been to the EU and UK, I know that the US is much more image conscious. So, I am not sure if something like this would work here and even less confident that anyone would be willing to try it. But, I do know that I will be suggesting it to supermarkets in my area and will be much more mindful about my own food waste.

If you have any ideas or comments, let me know on twitter!