Thursday, 11 November 2010

Food Not Fit For The Fork

Image from
The food we buy off the supermarket shelves, we assume, is always fit for the fork, but what happens to food deemed past its best? Originally, thrown away without a second thought, Waitrose has recently been congratulating itself on its new schemes to reuse so-called waste. From January, unwanted food is to be transformed into renewable gas, which is hoped will produce enough energy to feed the national grid and power a brewery. In North Wales, the story is a little different. Here the local Waitrose regularly supplies fruit and veg past its best to a zoo in Colwyn Bay. A feast fit for a King, but deemed suitable only for a captive non-human market. Other branches of its stores send their food waste to eco-friendly anaerobic digestion plants to be converted into green energy. Is this a pat on the back for Waitrose and others following suit? I'm not so sure...

What bothers me is the comments that accompany these proclamations. Some of them are frankly laughable. Zoo animals it appears have more of a nose for food than we do, and are developing a taste for supermarket fruit and veg. The Welsh Mountain Zoo animal collection manager, Peter Litherland, said the scheme made the animals' lives a bit more interesting and provided a varied diet. He later added, “The chimpanzees know that they are getting something different and special”. A sad truth, implying that as part of this animal kingdom we don't appreciate the food we have been given. As consumers, have we fallen prey far too easily to industry imposed standards? Are we being denied the chance to purchase fare that still packs a nutritional punch?

As a vegetarian and a foodie, I'm not only concerned with the welfare of animals, but how we use our natural resources. That said, some of you may be wondering what I'm complaining about. As a result of supermarket waste, zoo animals get to tuck into a healthy nutritious diet, and renewable energy can be easily obtained. These schemes do their job and prevent food going to landfill, so what's the problem? Not eating is my answer. If the food's still edible and only the quality is at fault, why are these schemes necessary in the first place? Why can't supermarkets put aside their strict standards, forget their profit margins and let the consumers decide? Why shouldn't I buy knobbly fruit and veg, bashed up tins, or produce slightly past its best? The proof is surely in the taste and not it's irregular appearance.

Yes, I may sound like a broken record, but tackling society's food waste monsters, including us as consumers, would do much to reduce our global ills. The efforts of Waitrose to be a green, ethical and compassionate retailer, along with their new-found transparency, is to be admired. It fails however to silence my inner critic. Transparency is the “buzz” word of this century. Frequently cropping up whenever big business or the latest public scandal is discussed in an open forum. All past actions, such as the MP expenses blunder, the Iraq/Afghan war nobody wanted, and the current economic recession, can apparently be redeemed by this very word. Is transparency what the public wants or is this an idea we've been sold? If by transparency we mean honesty and openness, then it's for the good, but do any of us really believe that will be the outcome? Transparency will never be for our benefit – it's all about being one step ahead of the competition. Is it power to the people? No, it's corporate ammunition.