Waste Not Want Not – France has a Tasty Menu of the Shunned for Cutting Food Wastage

Take one two-legged carrot, a club-footed turnip, two bumpy-headed potatoes, a knurly- lipped red pepper, mix them up on the Internet, add a for-fun competition, bake well and voilà a tastier recipe for handicapped vegetables.

Never mind my nose, I taste just as good (Credit Gueules Cassées)

Never mind my nose, I taste just as good (Credit Gueules Cassées)

Or that is the hope of the designers of a new campaign to cut food waste in France, the world’s food cathedral. For France is one of the few EU countries committed to halving food waste by 2025.

Their optimism might face some challenges from the realities of the marketplace however. For as Patrick Bezieu, a greengrocer in the French country town of Figeac noted: “Well perhaps, but people buy with their eyes and they don’t want ugly fruit even if it tastes just as good as products that are not misshapen”.

Even though it is ten years since the European Union abandoned its absurd and once universally-imposed demands that consumers should only ever see straight bananas, blemish-free apples,and a host of similar tape-measured characteristics, deformed consumer habits persist.

It may not be beautiful but its edible (Credit Gueules Cassées)

It may not be beautiful but its edible (Credit Gueules Cassées)

According to PlanetoScope each year France wastes between 1.2 and 6mn tonnes of foodstuffs or some 2 – 100kgs of food per person per year, or in other words some 38kgs of food are binned every second.  (Sources: Rapport d’Urban Food Lab pour le ministère de l’Agriculture, and FAO [Organisation des Nations Unies pour l’alimentation et l’agriculture], 2011)

Watch this video-clip produced by an ecology group, Crepaq , as a contribution to the European-wide anti-waste effort:

The campaign to curb food wastage — outlined on Les Gueules Cassées — the Malformed Mouths – website announces alarmingly: “Globally, one third of all food harvested is thrown away! In France, 30% of fruit and vegetables fail to complete the trip from field to plate. Worldwide 1.3bn tonnes of food are thrown away each year.

“This represents about one third of the total production of food for human consumption. A recent study showed that only 43% of food cultivated worldwide is directly consumed by humans. Food waste from rich countries is almost as much (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production in sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes).

“This food loss is equivalent to an agricultural area of 310 square meters per year per capita. Fruits and vegetables, roots and tubers have the highest wastage rates. In developed countries, each person wastes more than 110 kg of food per year compared with some 10 kg pp per year in emerging countries.”

Today, the campaign adds,  “farmers around the country have come together to offer their “gueules cassées” or misshapen products to consumers in a bid to end the senseless rejection of perfectly edible food and which currently amounts to 30% of all annual food waste in France”.

The campaign concerns foodstuffs that have some visual defect; undersized or less than perfect foodstuffs; foodstuffs that have suffered damage from rain, hail or wind storms. It is run by fruit and vegetable farmers under the aegis of Sols & Fruits and has a Facebook page here.  A list of stores in France which have joined the campaign to sell foodstuffs that taste good despite their unloved faces can be found here.

In June last year the magazine Nouvel Observateur reported on the government’s “Plan anti-gaspi” the plan to combat food wastage in France. “The government has named October 16 each year as the national day for the fight against food waste. It has persuaded agribusiness, food wholesale and retail chains and the restaurant industry to sign an anti- waste charter.

“The signatories undertake to train and raise awareness of the issue among their staff, to implement a recovery process for unsold foodstuffs as far back in the chain as the farm field; to adjust food size portions and to facilitate the donation of unsold or uneaten food.

“For its part the State will include anti-waste clauses in all future catering procurement contracts and these will include measures to reduce portion sizes.  A programme of vocational training has been inaugurated at agricultural colleges and hotel schools. The food and distribution industry has also undertaken to revise the currently too restrictive ‘best before’ labels on its goods which encourage users to dump perfectly edible food before it is necessary.”

According to a recent BBC World Business Report food waste reduction could help feed world’s starving : “Some 40% of all the food produced in the United States is never eaten. In Europe, we throw away 100 million tonnes of food every year. And yet there are one billion starving people in the world. The FAO’s best guess is that one third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted before it is eaten”.

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In Europe and the US up to half the entire food production supply is wasted between farm and fork according to the Tritrum Stuart website. The United Nations estimates that 1.3 billion tonnes of food are wasted globally per annum.

Strangely enough this fact was brought home to me on a recent trip to Africa. I was at South Africa’s renowned Indaba Hotel, Spa and Conference Center to interview their executive chef for a food magazine.

As is often the case when on a reporting mission , I became distracted by the very beautiful 42 acre garden in which the hotel sits.

The general manager kindly introduced me to head landscaper Corlea Bardsley and soon I was delving into the ins and outs of her project. On any given day the kitchens will be feeding up to 3000 guests as well as 500 staff and as with any cooking operation on this scale they produce a large quantity of waste material. The hotel has a compost tumbler which unlike most of the tumblers I have come across is designed to deal with meat, small bones, fish and cooked material.

On the whole composting systems can only cope with vegetable waste and a large hotel or restaurant can find itself with overwhelming amounts of material that would not be suitable for compost.

Until 2001 much of this waste was fed to pigs but with the outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease that took place that year, Europe took a knee jerk decision that ended this practice. It is estimated that between 2 and 500 times more carbon dioxide can be saved by feeding food waste to pigs than by sending it for anaerobic digestion as is now the case in most of the EU countries.

France is one of the few countries in Europe that has pledged to halve food waste by 2025 and it is presently working on a reversal of the law against feeding waste food to pigs.

The new tumblers such as the one shown to me in South Africa may well be another step in the right direction, not only for large hotels such as the Indaba but also as recyclers of domestic waste. There are several options on the market most of which combine the food waste with some form of material such as wood pellets. The compost that Corlea showed me was very rich and so she mixes it with soil to prevent burning of plants.

The problem of food waste is one that is not going to go away quickly, especially as countries once regarded as relatively poor now suddenly find themselves with more wealth to throw at feeding their large populations.

Already it is estimated that one third of the entire world’s food production could be saved by reducing waste. If that food were not wasted, the irrigation water used in its production would be enough to supply the daily domestic needs of 9 billion people. By eliminating food waste we would increase water availability, decrease carbon dioxide production and drastically reduce the amounts of waste we are currently battling to dispose of.

In many ways, it is perhaps an issue to which we all need to be paying more attention.

Story : Mike Alexander
Follow Mike on Twitter 

Mike Alexander, a garden professional, writes the Grumpy Gardener column for French News Online and contributes reguler nature and wildlife pieces to the paper.
(Additional reporting: Ken Pottinger)


Read all Mike Alexander’s gardening advice here and here



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