Why you should buy 'ugly' veg

Andrea Burgener urges you to join the war on food waste

28 June 2017 - 14:09 By Andrea Burgener
Embrace those wonky carrots to do your bit to end food waste.
Embrace those wonky carrots to do your bit to end food waste.
Image: iStock

I feel almost permanently guilty about waste. All sorts of waste, but food waste most of all. That's probably because buying and selling food is what I do every day, so I'm extra exposed to how the waste of edible matter makes you feel.

It's damn hard not to waste though, isn't it? And not least because so much of the advice around waste that we're given is of the unrealistic and/or pathetic bumper-sticker sort.

Things like, "Only buy the number of apples you're likely to eat" or, "Use onion tops in your stock" are hardly ideas of great genius, and will not do much more than assuage your guilt. Yes, I know every onion layer counts, but we need to think way beyond this.

The main problem is that we only fret about the waste we see in front of us: in our own house and on our own plates. We need to direct our thinking and decision-making to the entire food chain, to the bits of the process we can't see.

You could use every bit of onion skin you'd ever bought to make soup stock, and recycle all your peels in the compost heap, and you still wouldn't have come close to how much more someone else has helped matters by simply not buying prawns.

The way things are produced is gobsmackingly wasteful. Which is why putting the odd leek on the compost heap remains our go-to comforting green option.

Prawns, as I've ranted about before, are in a league of their own. If you're eating a plate of wild-caught critters, remembering that more than 10 plates worth of by-catch (turtles, seagulls, other fish and so on) were caught and thrown back (sadly not alive anymore) might sap your appetite.

Then there's the pretty vegetable problem. Supermarkets are convinced we won't buy carrots if they come in different sizes or are a bit wonky. Ask a farmer hooked up to the supermarkets and they'll amaze you with the amounts they end up binning (or, okay, sometimes composting here and there) because they aren't super-model veg.

It's not enough to simply eschew the pretty veg; supermarkets have to be told, loudly, that we WANT the uglies, that we applaud and admire them for displaying butternuts that look like the Hunchback of Notre Dame and brinjals that remind us of Mickey Rourke post the plastic surgery. This doesn't just help with waste, it helps farmers' pitifully small profit margins too.

Then there's feedlot beef. Sorry to be depressing, but you can be as water-wise as you like at home, and you still won't have made a microscopic dent in the gallons and gallons of water involved in producing every feedlot steak. Eat grass-fed or nothing.

• This article was originally published in The Times.