Hard to swallow: Supermarkets ‘trash planet’ with half UK food thrown away

Over 10 billion pounds (US$15 billion) worth of food is thrown away in the UK each year while thousands of families struggle to feed themselves in a country where one in five lives below the poverty line, according to Oxfam.

Supermarkets and restaurants add fuel to fire embracing a throw-away culture and binning tonnes of perfectly good products each year.

“At the moment we pay supermarkets and other food businesses to trash the planet, to grow food, and then waste a third of it. We need to make a demand as consumers that they change their behavior as well,” Tristram Stuart, author of ‘Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal’ told RT.

“When we go to a supermarket and see that all the carrots are straight and all the apples look the same we need to say, ‘Hold on a sec, why do all these fruits and vegetables look the same? What did that supermarket do with all the wonky ones?’ and demand that actually they stock all the vegetables as they’re grown,” Stuart added.

Oxfam warns that over 13 million people in the UK do not have enough to live on. The rest spend an average of 11 per cent of their budgets on food.

The head of energy and environment at the UK’s Institute of Mechanical Engineers, Dr. Tim Fox, was quoted as saying that, “In developed countries like the UK, food waste is largely the result of commercial practices, such as the demand for aesthetically pleasing food products, and wasteful behavior in the home.”

Reuters / Stefan Wermuth

As a matter of fact, according to a survey by the institute, more than 80 per cent of British shoppers would be willing to buy fruit and vegetables which are not perfect in shape or color.

“This survey clearly indicates that, despite perceptions held by commercial buyers, UK consumers are willing to purchase imperfect-looking fruit and vegetables. This food, which is perfectly good to eat, is often rejected by buyers before it leaves the farm as it does not meet cosmetic requirements,”
Fox said.

While landfill sites become the final destination for much of the UK’s ugly fruit and vegetables, volunteers at the so-called People’s Kitchen in East London have found their way to solve the problem. The challenge for the eco-conscious group of people is to save food that would have been otherwise thrown away by shops and markets at the end of a day's trading. They are treating local residents to free meals.

“As a chef I’ve seen food being wasted at every restaurant and every event I’ve ever done, and on a bigger scale at the supermarkets and an even larger scale at these big markets,” Tom Fletcher from Beggar’s Banquet told RT.

Beggar’s Banquet has been salvaging surplus food from London’s restaurants and markets to “funnel the waste product of a destructive economy into one of abundance.”

“The food that we are taking is not good enough to sell, but too good to throw away…It’s just kind of OK to get someone to throw it in the bin when there’s people starving. Not just in other countries where the food came from, but in this country,” Fletcher explained.

While every link in the supply chain continues to throw away perfectly good produce, up to 50 per cent of food bought from supermarkets is thrown away. Fiercely competitive stores attract customers with ‘buy-one-get-one-free’ deals. Consumers are lured into buying excessive quantities of food half of which ends up in the bin.

“I spent many years visiting the skips of supermarkets and literally, you open up a skip and what you see is an array of perfectly good vegetables and fruit that have been thrown away. And most people think, ‘Gosh, how disgusting to get food out of a bin.’ It’s true, it is disgusting. But what’s disgusting is that we’re throwing away fit-for-consumption food,”
Stuart told RT.