UN serves up ‘ugly’ food to highlight food waste

By Efrosini Costa

Government ministers and officials were treated to a meal of blemished African fruits and vegetables to highlight the extent of global food loss and waste.

A five-course meal, which included yellow lentil dal, grilled sweet corn tamales and mangomisu – a tropical take on the classic dessert tiramisu- was served up to 500 delegates yesterday, who were attending a weeklong summit hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Kenya.

All of the food served up was of reject-grade standards of European buyers who will often cancel orders of produce even after it has been harvested if they feel it does not mean their stringent standards. The mounds of food are then left to rot or fed to livestock, as the amount produced is higher than what local markets can absorb.

The zero-waste gastronomic affair was in support of Think.Eat.Save. Reduce Your Foodprint – an initiative launched in January by UNEP, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FA0) and partners such as Feeding the 5,000 and Messe Dusseldorf.

An estimated 1.3 billion tonnes of food is lost or wasted each year. Aside from the cost, this has major environmental implications, which place added pressure on an already strained global food system.

“No economic, environmental or ethical argument can be made to justify the extent of food waste and loss currently happening in the world,” said UNEP head, Achim Steiner.

“With this dinner, we are demonstrating to retailers, consumers and policymakers who can push for change that the astonishing amount of food we throw away is not just edible and nutritious, but also delicious,” Steiner added.

A report released early this year by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers found that a staggering 30 to 50 per cent of all food produced around the world is never to be consumed by humans. They believe the cause for this is inadequate infrastructure and storage facilities as well as a demand for cosmetically perfect food.

Tristram Stuart, food waste author and British founder of the Feeding the 5000 campaign, believes fruit and vegetables are often rejected for cosmetic reasons such as colour or shape and singled out supermarkets in Europe as the worst perpetrators.

“We are demonstrating the colossal scale of gratuitous waste, even in countries like Kenya where there are millions of hungry people,” he said.

“We found one grower supplying a UK supermarket who is forced to waste up to 40 tonnes of vegetables every week, which is 40 per cent of what he grows,” Stuart said, adding that, “the waste of perfectly edible ugly vegetables is endemic in our food production systems and symbolizes our negligence.”

But, Staurt pointed out that the banquet also presented an opportunity: “By persuading supermarkets to change their standards, and by developing processing and other ways of marketing this produce, we can help to increase on-farm incomes and food availability where it is needed most.”

“This dinner, and the many Feeding the 5000 events we have run, aims to change attitudes and highlight best practices, by showing that there is absolutely nothing wrong with this food we so casually discard,” Stuart argued.

José Graziano da Silva, the FAO Director-General, agrees, saying: “Together, we can reverse this unacceptable trend and improve lives”.

“In industrialized regions, almost half of the total food squandered, around 300 million tonnes annually, occurs because producers, retailers and consumers discard food that is still fit for consumption. This is more than the total net food production of Sub-Saharan Africa, and would be sufficient to feed the estimated 870 million people hungry in the world” da Silva said.


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