We already know that the world wastes enough food to feed everyone who goes hungry. And yet cutting back on that waste is an enormously complex problem, especially within an industrial food complex that sometimes prioritizes standardization over efficiency.
In France, one supermarket has already made a name for itself selling "inglorious" fruits and veggies — making the most of those bent carrots or spotty apples that might not be quite "perfect" enough for overenthusiastic supermarket quality control, but which nevertheless are entirely good to eat.
Now U.K. supermarket chain Asda is getting in on the act. Business Green reports that the chain, which is owned by Walmart, is marketing a box of "wonky" veggies. ("Wonky" is British slang for "bent" or "misshapen.") The box is said to be big enough to feed a family of four for a week for just £3.50 (about $5 U.S.) Currently, the box includes carrots, potatoes, peppers, cucumber, cabbage, leeks, parsnips and onions, but will most likely change according to seasonal availability and relative "wonkiness."
The new "wonky" line of veggies has been a big hit on social media, apparently. In fact, given the fact that 50 percent of the food wasted in Britain is thrown away by individual households, and Americans don't appear to do much better, we can't expect supermarkets to solve this problem by themselves. Indeed, the primary value of the scheme may be as a way to educate people about the issue of food waste overall, rather than to reduce waste at the supermarket level.
Social media users have been sharing pictures of their own 'wonky' veg boxes. (Photo: meerap20/Instagram)
Another way the scheme is having an impact is in encouraging supermarkets to not just market imperfect veggies as a specialist product line or high-profile PR stunt, but to also rethink the standards they use across the board. Ian Harrison, Asda’s produce technical director, explained the organization-wide approach to cutting food waste:
"We’re taking 340 more tonnes of standard and organic carrots which would previously have been out of spec. We’ve also relaxed specifications on other produce like green beans, chillies and standard sweet potatoes which has put a further 300 tonnes of produce onto our shelves, which is good news for farmers. We have more work to do and we’re committed to working with our growers to ensure we utilise more of their crops whether that’s in Wonky or in our standard ranges.”
There are many high-tech ways that we can waste less food, but sometimes the answer lies simply in eating the stuff we would otherwise throw away. Asda's "wonky" veg idea isn't going to solve that problem overnight, but it's a useful reminder to us all that perfection can sometimes be the enemy of really tasty soup.