Half of the world’s food goes to waste

This stunning report out of the UK points the fingers at all groups along the food chain. While consumers throw away a lot of food, stores also refuse to purchase food unless it has a certain look.

Unfortunately for everyone, refusing food because it has the wrong appearance has led to new variations of food that taste no better than the old products. In France it’s now common to see coeur de boeuf (I think these are “beefstake” in the US) tomatoes in the normal grocery stores. They have the “ugly” look that everyone associates with the tasty tomatoes that we find in the country during the summer, but in fact, they’re as tasteless as the other tomatoes in the big city stores.

food produce

Produce Market via Shutterstock.

Last summer I spent a week cycling in the apricot region of France (or at least, the best apricot region) and I would pass through farms that were full of harvested trees, but there were still plenty of apricots in the trees. They just didn’t look good enough for buyers. (Some people caught on and I did notice some people collecting the abandoned fruit in the early morning when few people other than older cyclists are out.)

The point is, people want good products and many have been falling for the “ugly” tomatoes, in hopes of having a good product. At the same time, there are plenty more shoppers who want every zucchini and peach to look exactly the same. Part of that “look” that shoppers want involves maintaining the appearance after shipping.

It’s a tough challenge, but someone will eventually figure this out, or at least how to minimize the waste. NBC News:

The world produces about four billion metric tonnes of food a year but up 2 billion tonnes is never eaten, the global study by the London-based Institution of Mechanical Engineers said.

The organisation lays the blame at every step of the food chain, from farming practices to consumers.

It says retailers reject millions of tonnes of crops because of the physical appearance of fruit and vegetables, fearing shoppers will not buy them unless they look perfect.

I’ve mentioned this group before, but there’s a fantastic organization here in France that helps promote small farmers and their products, Le Petit Producteur. The products are not cheap, but the quality is high, almost as high as you get out in the country where farmers operate. The produce isn’t always the most beautiful – though it’s still attractive – but the taste is far superior than what you typically find in the city.

While on vacation with friends last summer, my 3 year old goddaughter and her twin sister couldn’t stop eating the local fruits and vegetables that we bought at the farmers market. None of it had the shiny, perfect look that you find in Paris markets but the taste was unbeatable. Our friends were amazed with how much the girls were eating, since at home, they hardly touched the same products because they had no taste.

Will the next generation of farmers find a way to bring back taste, rather than look and ability to be transported? That could go a long way towards solving this food problem.

An American in Paris, France. BA in History & Political Science from Ohio State. Provided consulting services to US software startups, launching new business overseas that have both IPO’d and sold to well-known global software companies. Currently launching a new cloud-based startup. Full bio here.

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