It’s hard out here for fruit and veggies these days. All the judgement from society about how aesthetically pleasing they are, what they taste like and whether they’re organic or not. They just can’t seem to catch a break. We, as Australians, are known for our chilled out and happy-go-lucky personalities, so why do we take the appearance of our produce so seriously? Some of you may be thinking, ‘Oh, I don’t care about what my veggies look like!”, but I’m here to tell you, you do, and you don’t even know it. Aussies waste over $8 billion of edible food every year, and unfortunately, a large portion of it is due to the almost unattainable cosmetic standards.
The root of this ugly produce epidemic can be linked directly to supermarket conglomerates like Coles and Woolworths. These supermarket chains have outrageous standards for the appearance of produce when purchasing off farmers. For example, the companies will not purchase bananas if they are not curved enough, apples if they are too red, or strawberries if they are too small. When you think about how crazy these rules are, it is easy to understand how these astronomical amounts of product go to waste. Woolworths has adopted an ‘odd bunch’ section in their stores, where the fruit and veg with slight deformities (that probably made it past the distribution centre through pure luck) are sectioned together and sold at a lower price per kilogram than regular produce. This is a step in the right direction for the war on waste, however, the ‘odd bunch’ section is not publicised, is usually in the furthest, smallest corner of the aisle, and adds to the current plastic problem, as fruit and veg WITH skin (meaning they can naturally protect themselves) are wrapped in ridiculous amounts of single use plastic to encourage larger quantity purchases.
But what happens to the food that gets rejected from Coles and Woolworths? Well, the decision to purchase occurs at the business’ distribution centres – if approved, it goes straight to stores, but if rejected, they give the produce back to the farmers and growers, as they do not take ownership of if until it has been cosmetically approved. To adhere to their corporate social responsibility, the businesses ‘invite’ the farmers and growers to arrange for their produce to be donated to a charity, however, at their own expense. Another option is to pay the business to transport and dispose of the produce, or make transportation arrangements to sell the ugly fruit and veg at a market or independent store at a significantly lower price.
A prime example of the rejection of food by Coles and Woolies is the recent debacle surrounding needles in strawberries. Although the punnets containing needles came from a singular farm, the duopoly ceased purchasing strawberries completely, to the point where they had no stock on the shelves. This put strawberry farmers in horrible positions, where they could no longer make money from this season’s harvest, but they also had to dispose of TONNES of healthy, sweet, delicious strawberries. Images have been provided below to portray the extent of the waste.
With the popularity of organic food ever increasing, it is interesting to note the strange consumer habits surrounding ‘ugly’ produce. As organic produce is grown without the use of chemicals, pesticides and GMO’s (genetically modified organisms), wouldn’t it make sense for fruit and vegetables that aren’t cosmetically perfect to follow suit? So much product goes to waste because people are not willing to purchase non-aesthetically pleasing fruit or vegetables, yet, when organic, they are usually the healthiest versions of the product available.
As a nation, we need to realise that our standards are far too high for the aesthetics of the fruit and veggies essential to our survival. Slightly odd looking produce won’t hurt us, they don’t taste any different and they certainly don’t help the economy, nor environment, rotting in a dump. Next time you’re shopping for your fruit and veg, try and choose the unique produce from the ‘odd bunch’ sections of stores and markets – I guarantee it will change your necessity for the most aesthetically pleasing options. Besides, didn’t your mum ever tell you it’s good to be different?