Updated: Sep 28
Food wastage goes far beyond the food the supermarkets throw away. Or the food that ends up in landfills before it reaches the supermarket. There is the energy, water and fertiliser that is wasted in producing the crops, the fuel to transport them and the man hours wasted in the harvesting process.
When you factor in the fact that 45% of fresh produce in New Zealand is not leaving the farm and ending up in compost or landfills, it is indeed a concerning issue. It highlights a significant problem in the food system, where perfectly edible produce goes to waste due to cosmetic imperfections or size differences that make them less desirable for supermarkets.
One of the main reasons for this waste is the strict cosmetic standards set by supermarkets and consumer preferences for visually appealing produce. Retailers often have specific criteria for the size, shape, and appearance of fruits and vegetables, leading to the rejection of perfectly nutritious and safe food simply based on its appearance. For example; an Egg-Plant is sold individually at a fixed rate. If the Egg-Plant is too small, it is discarded. This results in large quantities of food being discarded solely because they do not meet these cosmetic standards.
The emphasis on uniformity in produce has become deeply ingrained in our food culture, largely due to consumers' expectations and the retail industry's influence. Consumers often prefer fruits and vegetables that look perfect, assuming they are of higher quality, and are less likely to purchase items that deviate from these expectations. This creates a market demand for aesthetically pleasing produce, leaving farmers with limited options for marketing imperfect or non-standard items.
Furthermore, logistical challenges, such as lack of infrastructure and transportation inefficiencies, can also contribute to the high wastage of fresh produce. If farmers cannot find suitable markets or face difficulties in transporting their produce to distant locations, it can lead to a surplus that eventually goes to waste.
Addressing this issue requires a multi-faceted approach involving farmers, retailers, consumers, and policymakers. One possible solution is to raise awareness among consumers about the importance of reducing food waste and encouraging them to purchase "ugly" produce. Retailers can play a crucial role by relaxing their cosmetic standards and offering imperfect or non-standard produce at a discounted price or through alternative channels, such as dedicated sections in supermarkets or direct-to-consumer programs.
Supporting local food markets and community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs can also provide an avenue for farmers to sell their imperfect produce and establish a closer connection between producers and consumers. Additionally, collaborations between farmers and food processors can help utilize surplus or imperfect produce in value-added products like juices, sauces, or frozen foods, reducing waste further up the supply chain.
Government policies can incentivize and support these initiatives through subsidies, grants, or tax breaks for farmers, retailers, or food recovery organizations working towards reducing food waste. Improving infrastructure for efficient transportation and storage of produce can also help reduce losses due to logistical challenges.
Overall, reducing the waste of fresh produce in New Zealand requires a shift in consumer attitudes, changes in retail practices, and supportive policies. By valuing the nutritional quality of food over its appearance, we can work towards a more sustainable and efficient food system that minimizes waste and ensures better utilisation of available resources.