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Going Bananas over Food Waste

My new toy/experiment -still bit expensive, but read  why almost every home should be a have one

I did say food waste deserved a separate post. Well this week,  Craig Reucassel of Chaser
fame, has beaten me to it, with the first of his excellent  TV Series “The War on Waste”
The good thing  about having a well -known comedian do it, is that it is also thoroughly entertaining, so catch up on it if you can and watch out for the other two episodes which haven’t been shown yet. 

Australians currently waste about 38 million Kilogrammes of food each year, about one in five shopping bags worth and that’s growing by 8% a year. At a time when many countries are experiencing famine  – Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen, and some 2 million people in our own supposedly affluent country are going hungry, that is not only indecent, but nothing short of a crime. 

Food is wasted all along the food chain – from harvest to the end product that winds up in your fridge or rubbish bin. One of the things which really shocked me in the video was that great mountain of bananas being thrown out on a banana plantation simply because they were too big, too small or the wrong shape to meet the exacting standards demanded by supermarkets. Supermarkets in turn say that they do this because that’s what their customers want.
This may or may not be true. I suspect that it has more to do with minimising the cost of packing and shipping and having a predictable unit cost and margin at the end. This may seem incomprehensible in places where production and consumption occur close together, but the vast distances between farms and our cities make the cost of sending imperfect or non -standard fruit and vegetables to market prohibitive, especially if they may not be acceptable to consumers or end up spoiling the batch.
Nevertheless, Woolworths which together with Coles control 70% of food sales in Australia, have begun trialling sales of “The Odd Bunch” –fruit and veg that are not the right size or shape but are thus considerably cheaper. I scored both apples and pears this way on my last visit. Since these  outers were half empty by the time I had walked around the store, I don’t think given the opportunity, the problem necessarily lies with the consumer. Obviously this is a good choice if trucks have spare capacity, especially if it enables people who wouldn’t otherwise buy fruit to do so, but less so from a business point of view, if thereby the main stock remains unsold, but  it's definitely great news for those who can’t buy much at all. Long may it continue!

Well patronised - Woolworths new  Odd Bunch section

I didn't buy the "awkward avocados who dream of dancing their way into a salsa" yet as there were a few too many for me, but I did enjoy the names

Meanwhile charities such as OzHarvest and Food Bank are doing their best to salvage food at all points along the food chain - including restaurants and private homes, for redistribution to the needy. Call them if you have anything surplus to requirements. Here is the list for those near you including those outside Australia.
Can’t help  thinking that both of these these initiatives will only make  a small dent in that banana mountain and how great it would be if that waste fruit could be distributed to schools or we could dry it with say, a mobile dehydrator to make a lightweight, high energy food for famine relief, not to mention possible commercial applications such as banana powder for use by bakeries or pudding  manufacturers.

Loved the crazy carrots ...
On the home front, I personally waste very little having come from a household where wasting food was regarded as a sin. Our Dad grew up in Germany between the wars and the Depression and didn’t even see butter until he was eleven. Many others whose parents (or they themselves) went through similar hardships such as rationing and the Depression will know what I mean. We use up leftovers and have  a long- standing tradition of market day stews or soups which use up any remaining vegetables, while things like overripe bananas go into smoothies, muffins or cakes.  

 I also like to shop on an almost daily basis like the French do, which is more expensive but allows me to buy fresh and only what I really need, as opposed to cheaper bulk buys, where much more is likely to go to waste. For those who actually have a job and don’t have to worry as much about saving money this is no doubt a bit of a luxury as they are much more time poor and stressed. Gone are the days when mothers could stay home and spend hours making delicious meals out of modest ingredients, or when households had the space to grow and store food. Urbanisation and denser living have also put paid to such things, unless people have made a deliberate lifestyle decision to say, support farmer’s markets or make their own food, both of which are generally more expensive as well as being more time consuming.

The 'peculiar' pears
Despite all this we still make our share of kitchen waste –potato peels, onion skins, wilted outer leaves of cabbage and so on. In landfill it turns into methane, which is a greenhouse gas three times  more potent  than carbon dioxide.When we tried using the neighbours ‘ compost bin  (we live in a kind of townhouse arrangement), they started to get rats, so I have just invested in a rather expensive Bokashi system. This is an indoor process favoured by the Japanese which uses benign microbes to ferment kitchen scraps -even fish and meat, without smells, flies or rodents. Afterwards, what remains can be put into the compost or buried in the garden or, as in my case, probably a flower pot, which would be OK to plant in two weeks later. I’ll let you know how it goes. For the Japanese there is also a spiritual dimension to this. Read about the concept of mottainai here, also the Swedish notion of lagom.

..and my  'abnormal ' apples which were indeed  'ridculously delicious.' I prefer the small ones anyway. Grab them while you  can and show  retailers that we can do with a little less perfection, especially if the price is right 
One last thought on this topic. Yes, it is wrong that so much food  is being wasted -according to Dr Karl  food waste makes up the bulk of US solid waste and we are surely not far behind . Nor is it much use telling one’s offspring how grateful someone on the other side of the world would be for those peas you have just had to throw out because  logistics are a big  part of the problem. It does however remind me of a lady I met once who was pondering what to do with an extra cabbage she had while people were starving in Africa . She hit upon the idea  of making soup with it and selling it at her morning church group. This went so well that she did it a few more times and was soon able to make a substantial donation. Perhaps workplaces could have a soup day like this once a month or even once a week.

The issue of packaging waste also came up in this program, but I will save that for the next post.

Another good use for undersized fruit seen in the local supermarket. How much  better than all  those strategically placed sweets and could stop the little darlings throwing a tantrum in the aisles too.


Unknown said…
We should, as human beings, understand that food is given to us to benefit from it, not to be thrown away. It is such a shame, that we buy so much food and waste resources to just put it in the trash can. Most rubbish cleaners say that a big percentage of their job is actually throwing out food leftover in the junk. This must stop.
Sheryl Butler said…
Food waste is rising over the years, because we are buying more than we can actually eat. Then, the product goes out of date and just decide to throw it. These surprising food waste statistics show increase by to up to 125 million tonnes by 2020 just in Europe. I can't believe it.