Saturday, November 28, 2009

What's In Your Garbage Bin?

Left-over food, outer leaf of a cabbage, squishy vegetables, rancid fries……. you may not give it too much of thought, after all it is not everyday that you discard food, but then by oversight you missed that pack tucked away in the vegetable tray. You went out for dinner last night and what do you do with that little food from the previous meal. Many other plausible reasons. All valid. Or so you think. But just consider some thousands of families doing the same, and the food that is collectively going waste. That  really is food for thought.

Tristam Stuart is a freegan - living off food thrown in the trash can, and not because he cannot afford it, but to prove to the world that food fit for consumption is being thrown away in UK.  He is used to dining well from the food that supermarkets throw out. And the food he salvages is not dirty and inedible.  Each year 484 million unopened yoghurts;1.6 billion untouched apples; bananas worth £370 million; 2.6 billion slices of bread are junked.

In his book Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal , he brings all this to light . He is appalled at the food going waste. 

 Consider these startling facts:

Supermarkets in the UK chuck out 1.6 million tonnes of food a year due to overstocking. They don’t see gaps in shelves as good business so often order more than they need.

Marks and Spencer requires its sandwich suppliers to get rid of the crusts and the first slices at each end of each loaf that they use. These four slices from each loaf amounts to one factory throwing out 13000 slices of fresh bread everyday.

A farmer supplying spinach to a supermarket had to waste a whole crop because blades of grass were found between the growing spinach.

Asda, the British supermarket chain owned by WalMart wastes 20-30% of carrots because they’re not perfectly straight. A British wholesaler had to throw away 5000 kiwi fruit away because they were each 4g below the EU minimum of 62g. last year.

The European Union’s bizarre legislation on the cosmetic quality of fruit and vegetables sold throughout the EU compounds the problem. For instance Class I cucumbers must "be reasonably well shaped and practically straight " - with measurements specified in most cases. Some of these laws were changed in November this year, but there are still 26 categories, including apples, strawberries, pears and kiwi fruit where this legislation still applies.

All fresh produce has a sell by date and anything close to that is dumped by major supermarkets.The sell by food label has nothing to do with food safety. So,effectively the food is not spoilt. This food goes into landfills so that gases like methane are not released into the environment! In places like Korea and Taiwan such food goes as pig feed, while in Europe, the pigs are fed with expensive feed that the farmer in such hardtimes can ill afford!

The FAO predicts that the number of people (especially in developing countries ) without enough to eat will exceed 1 billion in 2009. In India – millions of tonnes of vegetables are lost annually due to a poor supply chain apart from other reasons that are not likely to be under our control.

We can do our bit to control the food that we throw away.  Over-ripe fruits and vegetables can be converted into smoothies, pies, desserts, soups and even ice creams. Left over rice can be deliciously turned into a nicely seasoned product. As long as the food is edible and without compromising on food safety, there can always be way to convert the product into something edible. 
I have always admired the lovely looking fruits and vegetables that one finds stocked in super markets abroad. But now, I think I know better.


  1. I do think the use by date is just a big conspiracy to get consumers to throw out the produce which has been bought and buy more. The eggs, bread, veggies, bio-curd, yogurt etc all survive in my fridge long past that date.
    The only product which I see go bad if kept longer is milk. It's like a switch goes off and the milk goes all bad if not used up by the last date as mentioned on the can.
    Hopefully, I'll get to see knobbly carrots and misshappen peppers in the stores now that the EU regulations have changed. Nice post!

  2. Oh I can't agree with you more! What shame I think we should have...there are many who hunger and we disdainfully throw our food away. Shame Shame Shame! I recently read, in a magazine, some 'tips' that our mothers used. Saving the bones from turkey etc. for making soup, using the dark onion skin to 'brown soups and sauces, etc. I laughed....they made it sound like no one did this it was unique or something...or trendy rustic. Gosh...I do this all the time....not just because we have learned this from hard times but because it is healthy and good for the environment. I just don't get it...we have grown into a spoiled select few of 'haves' in a mainly 'have not' world....n'est pas? Good post!

    On another note, thanks so much for the sweet little 'quote' for me and Radar. Yes, he is my constant him to bits....he and my Yaris! Grin!

  3. This is food for thought- that for sure!

    The supermarkets do throw out good food- as you have pointed out. So do Five-star hotels, I've heard.

    So do we, individually, I suppose- though on a smaller scale. I'm sure that we could recycle rice- as you've suggested- or vegetables into parathas, etc.

  4. I was always wondering about what happened to the two day old vegetables in the supermarkets! Our suziwala used to sell them at half price to the small roadside hotels.

    I too have noticed that only milk gets spoiled if we keep for a very long time in the freezer too. Cheese doesn't, even after the 'use by' date.

    My head is reeling, reading about the fruit and vegetables which go waste, just because they are not in 'shape'. Bread slices going waste...mind boggling.

    I never waste food in any form. Remaining rice, iddles etc. can be made into so many other snacks and our family is used to eating them. As soon as they see the remaining iddlies, my son knows that the next day, the morning breakfast will be 'iddly usili' (upma)!

  5. very goodpost ! weneed to spread this.
    As long as the food is edible and without compromising on food safety, there can always be way to convert the product into something edible....I fully follow this,and really dislike thisidea even in restaurants that what is once puton the table,even if untouched goes tothe dustbin.

  6. the age of appetite..and diametrically opposite..its the age of excess in hunger and poverty. We have more food to go around than ever in history and we have more people going hungrier than ever too.

    If one would imagine a pyramid and place the poor at the bottom end and the increasingly wealthy towards the top, it would appear, the bottom end is actually a better consumer of food. They listen to the body and feed it. As you crawl up, you lose the ability to listen to your body and instead get addicted to listening to the mind. Food is not about survival anymore. It becomes a vehicle of desire. When there is desire, its a fertile ground for markets. Money is not in the 'need', it is in the 'want'.And as with any desire, excesses are bound to happen.


  7. Trish - I think we were passed on good advice from our mothers. Some of us heed it too.
    Manju - There indeed seemed less wastage when we had no refrigerators around. Food was recycled or preserved in the best possible manner.
    Sandhya - I used to groan when it was the 'idli usli' day when I was younger, but now appreciate how our elders prevented wastage of food by ingenious methods.
    Renu - We should not shy away from asking for the 'doggy bag' at a restaurant.
    Deepak - as usual a profound comment. How true!

  8. Sa, I hope you get to see the knobbly carrots and use them, however difficult it make the job of grating them!

  9. Thats food for thought. You definitely got me thinking. SO much food is getting wasted and still people sleep hungry? irony!

  10. Shocking facts!
    What a wonderful thing you have done by writing on this book.

  11. Very true, we rarely waste food on daily basis. The maximum food wastage happens in functions. The people take food in their plate even if they are not sure about eating it.

  12. That came to me as a shock that so many tonnes of edible items are wasted. And whats wit the regulation on shape n size of vegetables, thats completely absurd. At the end of day it has the same purpose as others.
    Very informative post.

  13. That came to me as a shock that so many tonnes of edible items are wasted. And whats wit the regulation on shape n size of vegetables, thats completely absurd. At the end of day it has the same purpose as others.
    Very informative post.

  14. Shocking!

    Sell by date did not come as a surprise. But throwing away carrots because they are not straight!

    I wonder what is the reasoning behind EU regulations on the weight of vegetables!

  15. Been meaning to check out your blog for awhile Radha and I like it!
    I agree with you about the food waste, its shocking!I read an article in The Economist recently which said that a quarter of the food produced is thrown away. And this is not counting the excess calories that people consume just because food is so cheap there in the developed countries!

  16. Lot of food is wasted every year. And that too in all the countries. Take for example India. What we see in a feast in a wedding. I know only Tamil wedding. So I will give that example: 2 curry, 2 kootu, payasam, sambar, rasam, vadai, appalam, 2 sweets, curd, and some more. The same quantity is served not only to adults but also to small children and people with diabetes. What they do? Just don't eat. Even healthy adults do not finish all the food.

  17. Wow.. i didnt know all this! What a bloody waste.

  18. it's true....people waste a lot of food. I hate doing it and try never to waste food but I've been a culprit a couple of times esp when the use-by-date has passed. I've seen people waste a lot of food here in the US. esp in restuarants

  19. On a similar note, I have to tell you about this incident. The other day, I was returning some non-food item at Walmart. The lady in front of me was returning a bunch of canned and packaged goods. At my turn, I asked the Walmart lady what they did with the returned food. She said, they would just throw it away in the trash. Apparently, they throw away a lot of returned food everyday because by law they are not allowed to keep it!
    Then the other day, I saw a documentary about how in the 80s, there was a local movement, where these groups of people would scavenge the back alleys of department stores, recover thrown away perfectly good food, make it into meals and distribute it at street corners. The govt, of course, outlawed it pretty soon.

  20. Aditya - yes it is a shame, we think there is a huge shortage of food, when in fact so much is being wasted.
    Nita - that is another interesting point - we eat food more than we need, and some we waste - so one can imagine how much food is not being totally wasted - and there are like Aditya mentioned, so many hungry in the rest of the world.
    Rajesh,SG,Kallu,Jaya - Agree with you, and these facts also created a lot of awareness for me too - I have always tried not wasting food, and have become doubly careful now.
    Nona,Rajalakshmi - vegetables of a standard size look good in the shop, don't they? But then, after all they are chopped, grated or cut and made into a curry, so why should it matter if they are not of uniform size? EU has finally woken up and in some cases have decided to do away with those restrictions, but some still remain.

  21. The western world is definitely waayyy more wasteful than developing countries. It is quite shocking for us Indians. I know of middle-aged Indian women who insist on their sons lugging home furniture or appliances (in perfect working condition) that others have thrown out :)
    We Indians have economy built into our life - as a young girl I wore hand-me-downs (much against my wishes). Leftover food is handed to the maid. We even feed cows, goats and crows. Of course things are changing now...

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading all your posts. I like the way you pick up topics that have caught ur eye and write informative pieces around them. I'm going to click on follow so I can come back for more!


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