While making a routine visit to the grocery store, I typically inspect the tomatoes for the reddest and prettiest, peruse the bananas for fruit that’s a fitting size for slicing over my breakfast cereal, and pluck out dent-free Vidalia onions. It’s a quality inspection; a way to guess which food is the most edible. Like most customers, my guidelines for produce purchasing are more arbitrary than logical and disregard how mottled tomatoes sometimes have better flavor or how a misshapen onion may fare no worse than a round one.
Grocery stores are aware of our picky preferences and know that marred, bruised, or generally unattractive fruits and vegetables don’t sell. These items are destined most of the time for a landfill, which is a pressing problem considering that, according to 2008 numbers, the food retail industry lost 43 billion pounds of food. With issues such as below-poverty hunger and growing populations to feed, figuring out how to recover this nutritious food is not only logical but also increasingly critical.
Food Waste Reduction Initiatives
In some parts of the country, new legislation is accelerating change with commercial food waste practices by capping permissible waste and consulting businesses on landfill alternatives. Some companies are realizing on their own that food waste reduction is good business, while others are finding humanitarian or environmental reasons to broach the issue. Regardless of incentive, there are interesting and worthwhile tactics gaining traction. Below are a few noteworthy initiatives.
“Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables” at Intermarche
In response to the European Commission’s declared Year Against Food Waste, Intermarché – France’s third largest supermarket chain – launched an “Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables” campaign this year. The campaign uses attractive, tongue-in-cheek marketing to promote ugly and irregular produce that other markets discard. The fruits and vegetables have their own designated aisle in Intermarché stores and are also used in Inglorious labeled soups and smoothies. The campaign has become such a success that the stores often struggle to stock enough “ugly” produce and they’ve even seen an increase in foot traffic
The Daily Table
Doug Rauch, the former president of supermarket chain Trader Joe’s, is channeling his extensive food waste knowledge into a new venture called the Daily Table, expected to open in Massachusetts next year. Grocery stores dispose of food after it passes the marked sell-by date, which contrary to popular belief is an indicator of peak flavor, not safety. The Daily Table aims to give these foods a second chance by selling post-sell-by foods at a discounted price. Rauch expects to receive a lot of shock and even disgust but hopes that the store will not only reduce unnecessary food waste but also help to change public perception about these foods. The heavily discounted prices will furthermore help low-income families who struggle with purchasing healthy foods to feed their families.
This is Rubbish Catering Events
The United Kingdom’s This is Rubbish is an organization whose goal is to reduce food waste through educational events and activism. Among their projects is the Buffet and Banquet food waste catering service, which offers catered events using quality food that would have otherwise been disposed of by food retailers. In addition to hired events, they also coordinate feasts and food festivals that not only educate diners but also demonstrate how the otherwise wasted food actually tastes good. Their events have become highly popular and some have been televised.
These endeavors to reexamine the fate of grocery store food are not alone. There are a growing number of organizations trying to address the issue and find better use for wasted food, from feeding the homeless to composting. Along with less waste, these various projects are expected to promote a better understanding for both consumers and businesses about why the bulk of food waste need not be waste at all.