The wastage of food, both in our own households and by the big supermarket chains, has recently been brought to light revealing the shocking and shameful truth about our ‘throw away’ society. Despite an estimated 4.7 million individuals living in food poverty in the UK, a disgusting statistic recently revealed that 1.3 billion tonnes of food is thrown away by this country every year.

A large part of this waste are made up of ‘imperfect-looking’ vegetables which taste delicious, just are a little unconventional in their shape. These are then disposed of because it is feared they won’t be picked up by consumers on the supermarket shelves. ‘Wonky Veg’, to give them their newly-acclaimed name, have been welcomed into the hearts and tummies of millions of us, with many of the UK’s biggest supermarket chains providing consumers with this oddly-shaped fruit and vegetables for discounted price to prevent further wastage.

It is estimated that in some cases up to 40% of a crop can be thrown away as it doesn’t meet the “aesthetic requirements” for supermarkets, a statistic provided by The Telegraph earlier this year.

One British supermarket are promising to be the “proud pioneers of the wonky veg revolution”, something they are hoping to achieve by the sales of their vegetable and salad boxes across the UK. ASDA, the nation’s third biggest supermarket after Tesco and Sainsbury’s, started to sell their “Wonky Veg Boxes” in 2016 and have since gone on to become a huge success.

The boxes retail at £3.50 and contain 5kg of fresh produce, the only difference being the shape of the veg may be a little adventurous compared to what you would normally find on the shelf. The boxes contain carrots, potatoes, peppers, cucumbers, courgettes, cabbages, leeks, parsnips and onions, with more vegetables and salad produce being introduced over time. The variation of vegetables in a box will also depend on the season and if they are currently being harvested.

Here at Nutley’s Kitchen Gardens we wanted to give one of these boxes a trial. Available at over 250 ASDA stores, the boxes were displayed at the front of the store and as promised contained a wealth of vegetables. The boxes are incredibly sturdy and are of good quality, and inside are filled with many goodies. Once back at base, we checked what fresh produce we had in our wonky veg box. A huge cabbage, curvy courgettes, onions, peculiar peppers, funky carrots, imperfect potatoes and much more – enough veg to feed a family of four for a week.  After using the veg over the course of seven days, the leftover produce was diced up and put into a soup which was then frozen. A fantastic result!

It is understood that ASDA managed to sell over 120,000 of these boxes in 2016, with more expected to fly off the shelves this year: the mission of the boxes being solely to cut food waste. The product has been such a hit with ASDA customers that it has been awarded ‘Product of the Year for Healthy Food’, an award chosen by UK consumers.

However, it isn’t just ASDA changing the way they sell and dispose of their irregular shaped veg, stores such as Tesco and Morrisons have also made improvements.

Tesco have now introduced their “perfectly imperfect” range, selling potatoes, parsnips and 17 other fruit and vegetables at a reduced rate based merely on their appearance. Their standard parsnips will cost you around 0.12p per gram whereas their parsnips from the “perfectly imperfect” range are half the price just 0.06p per gram.

Morrisons also trialled the selling of wonky vegetables just before Christmas last year in and around Yorkshire and the north-east in 75 branches. The Guardian reported that sales during the first week of this trial amounted to approximately £25,000.

As well as selling the mutated vegetables, stores like Tesco are also aiming to sell unwanted food to charity by the end of this year. A slow but positive movement towards less wastage of foods by the country’s biggest supermarket chains. Tesco estimated that they throw away 50,000 tonnes of wasted food every year, 30,000 tonnes of that thought to be edible.

Despite supermarkets attempting to cut down on disposing foods, the consumer at home is also a huge offender - £10 billion worth of food is thrown away by households each year, according to a report by the parliamentary committee (2017).

"£10 billion worth of food is thrown away by households each year, according to a report by the parliamentary committee (2017)"

Alarming figures when you consider that 4.7 million* people are currently living in food poverty and three new food banks are opened each week*. The amount of people also being given emergency  food from Trussel Trust Foodbanks has increased by 123% in just eight years from 2005 till 2013. Starting out with just 2,814 people needing emergency food in 2005-2006, the number continued to double and even triple until 346,992 people were recorded as needing help in 2012-2013. Although a large influence in this has probably been the fact that more and more Trussel Food Banks have opened across the country allowing more and more people to access the resources, it is still a hugely worrying statistic.

Supermarkets, such as ASDA and their Wonky Food Box, must continue to normalise the selling of ‘ugly’ fruit and vegetables and pledge to drastically cut back their wastage. However, as well as selling more and reducing waste, they must try and influence the consumer at home so they also stop throwing away so much food that is edible just maybe a day or so out of date.  

* statistics via Truseel Trust Feedbanks.
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