Cutting carbon food footprint hits a purple patch

Box of fruit and beg

Food waste has been a theme in society in some senses for many years. Supermarkets sometimes have charities they support when they know they could waste food.

Did you know UK households waste 4.5million tonnes of food per year? That’s according to the Government’s waste advisory board. And that figure is even after the average household has reduced such waste by 7%.

Most residents of Reigate and Banstead have food caddies, in which we can put our left overs (which is one type of food waste). For example excess fat and bones, perhaps fish skins, or fruit and vegetable waste if we don’t have gardens or composting facilities.

Examine your caddies, though, and it is probable we will find a lot more that could be saved, had we been more careful. Gone off bread, perhaps, or excesses of vegetables when we made too much dinner. It’s not simply that we throw food away that was edible.

The message has to be that we should think more about how it gets there – pathways to food waste if you like. The food rots because we had too much in the first place.

Supermarkets addressing waste

A few years ago, the Evening Standard, London’s daily paper, started a campaign to rescue the excess food from supermarkets that was not sold before it went out of date. It quickly found a charity which could use this excess. The charity quickly had to scale up, when supermarkets saw the publicity benefits – and the ability to help the needy – and climbed on board with the campaign.

Meanwhile, books, films and media about sustainability and the climate emergency are all full of references about how much farm food is wasted. Items that don’t meet our modern standards of perfection just don’t make it into stores. Or rather, items that don’t meet supermarket buyers’ standards of perfection.

This is how “odd shaped” areas of supermarket fruit and veg sections began. Wonky veg, it is often called. These are where you might find the bobbly, nobbly carrots or parsnips. Or the big carrots that don’t fit the “average” size destined for plastic packets. I’ll happily buy the half chopped, or bigger carrots, for example, which where I shop are happily the same price per kg or cheaper than wrapped in plastic. The “price” consumers pay for being environmentally friendly seems restricted to other products.

An alternative way to shop has been prominent since March’s lockdown: locally. Corner shops, selling fruit and veg perhaps, have been as popular as supermarkets. More so, for those who don’t want to venture out to people-packed stores.

Reducing carbon food footprint

This is what attracted me to Oddbox, a company that promoted itself as saving carbon footprint on our food, as well as rescuing items that would not have made the shops.

Delivered “overnight” to reduce carbon footprint even further (presumably so as the vehicles do not get stuck in traffic), I was just going to bed when there was a flashlight at the door. I felt like a little boy at Christmas, waiting for Santa. I let Santa disappear down the road, then opened the door and unwrapped my present: purple carrots, a melon, beetroot – an out of season treat – nectarines, a very large cauliflower, among other items.

A melon, I hear you say? Where would you grow that in the UK, if my food is delivered locally? It turns out, there are various ways how items have been “rescued”. Cauliflowers or potatoes are rescued from farms in Kent or Lincolnshire (some of the boxes are more regional than others).

Great explanations

The order came with a wonderful explanation sheet. Hot weather delayed the planting of the cauliflowers, meaning they missed the order dates for the supermarkets and now there is an excess of them. Oranges, from overseas, flooded the market in the UK. Covid-19 restrictions meant there were not enough staff who operate cranes, at the docks, to distribute them. They missed their supermarket slot. This, combined with the start of the Spanish orange season meant an excess.

Not everything was explained (such as the melon), just the items that were new to the boxes that week. There is a spreadsheet about what is in each type of box this week: small, medium or large of fruit; or veg; or both.

When placing my order, Oddbox also told me the carbon footprint that I was saving. I’m not sure how this is calculated, but it clearly includes carbon miles that would have been otherwise wasted when imported food sat at docks waiting to be distributed, but wasn’t. If there wasn’t anything from abroad, the carbon miles would have been far fewer.

Other distribution systems and companies than Oddbox are available I’m sure. But it really made me think about the miles our food travels, seasonality and the farmers who grew what we eat.

Did everything taste as good as from a normal weekly shop? Yes. Or better. The new potatoes tastes even better than those I grew at home. And the purple carrots? Why purple? Carrots were this colour a century ago, before being modified to look more palatable. It was a treat to have them. They even stayed purple to the plate – and tasted fantastically fresh and full of flavour.