On Friday 28th August myself and the skipped smoothie retinue Rachel Solnick and Ellie Stevens visited one of the main fruit veg wholesale markets in the UK, serving all of London the Midlands, East Anglia and Kent. We went to reclaim some of the food waste that is generated daily at the market. It was our mission to relocate the misplaced food, mix the ripe and fragrant fruits and virile vegetables into immune boosting smoothies and distribute them for free to attendees of climate camp, using the great tasting smoothies as an example of the ludicrous scale of good food going to waste on a daily basis in the UK. However, before transporting the free and perfectly edible fruit to the Blackheath climate camp, the shock of physically encountering such enormous piles of mouth watering fruit and veg destined for landfill and anaerobic biodigesters jolted me into vowing to examine the UK food production line.
Food consumption in the UK accounts for an average of 1.5tonnes per person of CO2 emissions annually, almost the same quantity of C02 emissions generated from average flying habits of UK residents (1.2tonnes). It is estimated that the UK, EU and America throw away almost half of the food that they produce and import. If the food industry and individuals reduced their food waste by half, then carbon emissions related to food production would be cut by 50%. However, it is not simply the carbon emissions associated with food waste that are problematic, but also the unnecessary consumption of resources and the social injustice that food waste perpetuates.
The environmental impacts of food production and transportation are relatively well known. It is crucial that the detrimental environmental and social problems of colossal food waste are not overlooked. On average UK households throw away around 8.3 million tonnes of edible food and drink a year, and this is only the waste generated at the point of consumption. Further up the food supply chain there are levels of waste that can be dramatically reduced. The UK food industry produces 6.5 million tonnes of food waste per year – 10% of all UK commercial waste. The Western food production cycle is seriously flawed. Resources are used along the production line, land, fertilizers, man power, transportation, fossil fuels, packaging, water, only to be deemed as waste upon arrival by EU and British governments and grocery retail superpowers. The question of why there is so much waste needs to be addressed, and those responsible for monumental waste generation must be challenged and held accountable for contributing to climate change while perpetuating global injustice and food poverty. Not only is it unethical to transport vast quantities of delicious food around the world to be promptly buried in the ground upon arrival when half the worlds population are living with food poverty, it is also an environmental nightmare.
As consumers we have the power to oppose food production systems that permit such waste generation. Individual purchasing power is one of the most effective ways to reduce food waste and establish more sustainable low carbon lifestyles. By refusing to shop at supermarkets that condone excessive food waste, lobbying food and environment ministers while ensuring that minimal food is wasted at home, it is possible to establish more sustainable food consumption patterns. An environmentally and socially responsible public must make it clear to suppliers and policy makers that a tear shaped orange is no need for a tantrum and bulbous courgettes are not distasteful. Such strict regulations enforced by the food import industry and supermarkets alike suggest that the consuming public are obsessed with pristine perfection. The problem with such a cultural fixation on edible perfection and food standardization is that it contributes to the problem of food waste that I encountered in small quantities last Friday. By accepting this waste we allow the depletion of resources at locations where people are already exhausted, hungry and powerless just so we can have a selection of perfect exotic fruits.
The hidden environmental social and economic costs of ‘supermarket shelf choice’ are huge. Considering that the four big UK supermarkets (Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Morrison’s) held 78% of grocery market shares in November 2008, it is clear that these franchises hold enormous power of how the food we eat is sourced, transported and supplied. By continuing to shop at these mind sterilizing stores we indirectly support superfluous food production systems. Reducing dependence on such market powers and growing our own food or joining community growing schemes, while starting to source indigenous food locally, consumers can take strong steps towards actively objecting to the harmful and unfair generation of food waste.