The ABC’s Landline did a fabulous story recently about how some Queensland carrot farmers are turning their post-harvest waste into profit. The farmer interviewed stated that 15 – 30% of their crop is being wasted or fed to animals. Why you may ask? Because supermarkets refuse to accept anything but packets of straight and unblemished carrots of uniform size. And why is this? Mostly because consumers won’t buy carrots that are oddly shaped, have a split, a bit missing off the end, are broken in half, or look a bit small or a bit large. The farmer realised that the industry is top-heavy with males and that the perspective and voice of the primary grocery shopper and cook was missing in the search for a solution to the problem of waste. So he did a skills audit of the wives of farmers and managers in his region. Not surprisingly, he discovered that they had diverse backgrounds including education, law, banking, journalism, and marketing. This perfect combination of skills resulted in a small consortia of women turning imperfect produce into packaged grated carrots and carrot sticks.
I applaud this innovation, its positive impact, and particularly the recognition and utilisation of women’s skills beyond those they need to have in order to effectively manage the home and children and contribute to the running of the farm. However it is concerning that this innovation reduces one lot of waste (food) and creates another (plastic packaging). It seems to me that the consumer needs to make a shift in their attitude toward imperfect produce. A young mum I know told me recently that one of the major supermarkets is now selling wonky-looking fruit and vegies. Perhaps this is a step in the right direction, though I remain skeptical about their motives….
Of course, the discarding of imperfect produce is just one small aspect of food waste from field to fork. If you are up for a very heavy read on this subject, I’ve just finished Tristram Stuart’s book entitled Waste: Uncovering the global food scandal. Be prepared to be alarmed, as well as enlightened in extraordinary detail. And you can read the carrot waste story here.