Opinion: More than just wonky veg

Perhaps the worst thing about wasting food is the contempt it shows for the planet that produced it. An abiding memory of my father will be his 90-year-old bottom upended while skip-diving for waste veg for his supper.

I was always trying to persuade him to take some of the fresh stuff, but his parsimonious pleasure in eating what others rejected grew with age. Some measure their success by what they control and consume; he was the opposite. His final, increasingly eccentric years set an example that I admire more as I age myself.

Short-lived, headline-grabbing campaigns on wonky veg do little to drive a lasting reduction in waste

Most of us (Riverford customers at least) hate waste; some of us are willing to accept imperfection to avoid it, and a few even cherish the irregularity that nature lends to our food. Yet supermarkets are sterile, uniform places, and produce must match their strict specifications.

Any cauli under 11cm, any courgette over 14cm, any Little Gem under 130g, any misshapen carrot or blemished potato, any sign of a slug, aphid or caterpillar; all are rendered worthless. Short-lived, headline-grabbing campaigns on wonky veg do little to drive a lasting reduction in waste.

Riverford does have specifications – but we invite growers to help us write them, to challenge them, and to ask for exemptions when a crop struggles to meet them. Our guidance is based on eating quality rather than cosmetics, and on you not having to spend ages trimming around bruised potatoes or carrot fly damage.

We buy what grows naturally rather than imposing specifications.

I check what goes in the waste trailer, and challenge the team if I think they are being too harsh – but almost invariably they get the balance right. What isn’t quite good enough for veg boxes is used in our canteen and restaurant, given to co-owners, donated to Food in Community or FoodCycle (fantastic local charity), and lastly, fed to the cows – or the compost heap, if we are worried about alliums tainting the milk.

Although there is virtually no ‘waste’, it is worth considering that waste in the field comes at a very low environmental cost, returned to the soil from whence it came. By the time it has been picked, graded, packed, stored and transported, its environmental impact has multiplied by about six, even before the impact of disposal; worst of all is cooking too much and scraping it into the bin.

About the author: Guy Singh-Watson has over the last 30 years taken Riverford from one man and a wheelbarrow delivering homegrown organic veg to friends, to a national veg box scheme delivering to around 80,000 customers a week.

Source: Wicked Leeks