Food Waste and The Cult of Perfection

The idea that we are wasting a lot of food is not new, the idea that we insist on produce to be perfect, is not new either. What is new is the extent to which food is wasted. Also new is that the waste is not limited to households and restaurants, but throughout the whole food chains, farmers, packers, truckers, food researchers, academics and even government officials all attest to how much waster there is. How much depends on how it is measured, whether it is from “farm to fork” meaning the whole food chain, or parts of it, so estimates of waste vary from one third to up to one half. Growers leave imperfect produce to rot in the fields, sometimes they are fed to livestock or carried directly to landfills. In landfills they create a lot of methane, one of the gases that contribute to climate change. So the harm is not only to the environment, it affects poverty and hunger. But it has become such a part of the business of food, that it is difficult to get on top of the problem. The Obama administration, along with the UN, is involved in an initiative to halve food waste by 2030 and Walmart has just announced it will be selling imperfect produce. While these are useful and needed measures, they do not touch the cause. The culprit behind the whole issue is “the cult of perfection”. Retailers, restaurants and consumers insist on produce without blemishes as well as with an expected shape. Peppers, squash, grapes which do not look the way they are expected to look can be left rotting or without buyers. But if that’s the reason behind the waste, then no initiative, no effort will have lasting impact unless we participate in changing our culture, unless we understand that the quality of a produce is not affected by its appearance. It’s a concept that would not only help us not waste food and help the cause of the environment, it is bound to also help us conquer many of our prejudices and maybe even play a role in helping bridge the racial divide.