Remember when your mom said to eat all your veggies because there are starving children? She actually was onto something. Our Western society wastes enough food to feed the world. From the food wasted in the field, to the food that does not meet standards of beauty when being sorted and the food lost in shipping and the food tossed before they even can make it to grocery store shelves, our food system is a wasteful one. When fresh produce in supermarkets no longer are visually at their peak, they usually get removed from the store shelves. This is often referred to as culling. Most stores throw out culled produce which adds to greenhouse gasses, some donate the food to charities and others sell it at reduced prices to consumers willing to overlook things like nearing expiry dates, blemishes or ripeness.
What happens when we rescue food?
- For starters a lot of resources go into growing food: time, water, fertilizers, pesticides, land and more. When we throw out food we are wasting all the resources that it took to grow or make that food.
- If that food is disposed of in landfills, the decomposition can add to greenhouse gasses as organic matter breaks down creating methane gasses that are released into the atmosphere.
- For every piece of fruit or veggies displayed on a grocer’s shelves, many more pieces of food were rejected. When food gets culled off the shelves, it isn’t just that one piece getting wasted, it is all the pieces that were not chosen in order for that item to make it to the store.
What can you do to make a difference?
- Don’t waste food. If you buy it, eat it. If you cannot eat it before it spoils, process it (can, freeze, dehydrate etc.), If you do not have time to process it before it spoils, buy less and shop more frequently.
- If stores offer culled food or marked down food as it nears expiry date, buy it and use it.
- If stores do not offer sales of culled food or food marked down as it nears expiry date, ask them if they would be willing to give away or sell you the food at a reduced price.
One of the local supermarkets in my area offers culled produce for sale in $1 or $2 bags. Whenever I am in town I make sure to check out their discount rack to see what they are culling. On one particular day I bought the below list of items for a total of $14.
- 4 x 56 g packs of fresh basil
- 4 zucchini
- 6 heads of lettuce
- 1 broccoli crown
- 1 bunch (32 spears) of asparagus
- 1 bunch of parsley
- 1 acorn squash
- 1 giant bok choy
- 10 beets
- 1 english cucumber
- 8 baby turnips
- 1 eggplant
- 1 chayote
- 9 roma tomatoes
- 8 cherry tomatoes
- 35 radishes
- 33 celery sticks
- 1 sui choi
These items were in good, edible condition and even were able to be kept longer in my fridge without spoiling. So why were they culled? They were culled for different reasons depending on the items. Celery sticks are tossed because they get separated from the bunch, the acorn squash had a blemish from being nicked with a sharp object, the tomatoes were not in their original clamshell so either the package was damaged or maybe a few in the container spoiled, the prepackaged basil was at the best before date, the greens from the radishes wilted and needed to be trimmed for aesthetic reasons, some items were not as plump or had minor signs that they were not as fresh, but overall the food was just as usable as anything else on the shelves and by buying it, the food would not be thrown out.