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Does size really matter? The shape of waste

If you are sitting there wondering what I am referring to, then I am sure this is not what you may be thinking. 

I watched a fascinating show (first of 3 part series) on Tuesday night on ABC called “War on Waste”. Craig Reucassel is on a mission to see if we, as a nation, can reduce our waste.

There are several aspects to this show including the amount of waste and the types e.g. true waste and wasted food i.e. recyclable items or edible food.

There was also a great deal of useful and thought provoking moments, as household garbage bins are handed over and Craig hand sorts everything for analysis.

I think one of the biggest surprises for me was the amount of plastic bags being just thrown away. As most of you know, at OneTable we are proponents of Reduce – Reuse – Recycle. We have a zero waste delivery service. Re-useable (returnable) silver cooler bags & ice packs, items all packaged together and only using additional smaller item bags when absolutely necessary e.g. grapes or mushrooms. Yay for that.

The other thing I found really interesting is WHY there is so much waste. A large element could be a lack of meal planning in the home, but it really goes much much deeper than that. We have a good friend who used to work at one of the big Supermarkets as a QA Specialist. She is now an organic gal, but during our time starting up OneTable she said to us “We (the big nameless supermarket) have done a really good job at conditioning our customers to expect perfection in their produce.” That is really food for thought … forgive the pun. :)

Skin Deep

We all say we want to support Australian Farmers, but especially in the conventional produce world, a lot of consumers don’t want a single blemish on their apple. We all want to reduce waste, but don’t want the grapes with water marks on the skin, even if told there is no detriment at all to the taste. So as an end result, farmers are throwing away so much produce because it doesn’t look aesthetically pleasing.

I will add, I feel the organic community is more sympathetic to the aesthetics of their produce.   They are more forgiving of simple blemishes and odd shapes because I find they are generally more aware of what is going on outside their own world.

And it doesn’t end there.

Should one size or shape fit all?

Other aspects to the ‘pickiness’ of produce shopping is size and shape. Some conventional supermarkets are very strict when it comes to the size and shape of produce they will accept. However nature doesn’t work to a ruler or scale, so there is always going to be the produce that falls outside of those measurements. Where does that go?

Bananas are a classic example. As illustrated during “War on Waste”, banana farmer’s must ensure their banana be within a certain size and shape, or it will get discarded – sometimes even up to 40% of their crop will be wasted!

Craig Ruecassel approached the CEO of Harris Farm and asked what fuels the expectation that Lady Finger Banana’s must be straight and Cavendish bent. The Harris Farm representative didn’t know, but he did say that was simply the expectation of the consumer, so they will remove the bent Lady Finger Banana’s from the display. (If you want a scientific answer to this bent-v-straight question, have a look here). At the end of the day, whether there’s a scientific reason or not, if we as consumers are expecting our fruit and vegetables to look a certain way and will not accept anything that is not mostly perfectly matched to that expectation it leads to unnecessary waste. 

The lunchbox dilemma

Hands up those of us who have picked up the smaller sized apple and left its large companion sitting on the display shelf?

When I spoke to Ben about this, he raised a fair counter point. Using the humble banana as an example again, people usually don’t want massive banana’s because it is simply too big for some people to eat in one go!   Banana’s are bought by weight, so if I am purchasing 1 kg banana’s I would prefer 8 regular sized banana’s which will be eaten as 8 separate snacks by my family, than 4 large banana’s that will need to be eaten in 4 snacks. Unless of course you have many children and 2 of them will share, which is our solution…sometimes.

The same goes for apples. Many OneTable members are families and they are buying produce to go in their children’s and their own lunchboxes. A large apple just doesn’t fit, nor will it get completely eaten by many children. Which in turn creates waste. Oh my! So what do we do?

I am afraid I don’t have an easy solution but I can offer some suggestions for large sized fruit that work in the Jackson household.

Change up snacks depending on size. If large apples are in season, change up the lunch box snacks to something else like grapes or a piece of carrot and then share a large apple with your child for breakfast or afternoon tea. Try to be flexible and a little creative when faced with different sizes.

Encourage your children to share fruit with siblings. We are blessed with 4 kiddos so that is easier for us than some. When our youngest wants a banana and I know they are huge, I suggest he ask one of his siblings if they want to share. It does help them learn to negotiate and communicate well with each other too, especially when it comes to halving the fruit and deciding who gets which half.

If a piece of fruit comes home only half eaten, cut off the brown or exposed end and encourage your child to eat it as part of their afternoon tea. My children don’t have surprises in their lunch tins (i.e. they know what is for lunch and they pack their own snacks), so the only reason they bring lunch home is if they were full and couldn’t eat it all. If practical, they then need to eat what is left before any other afternoon tea is to be had.

Compost / Worm Farm Don’t forget to feed any scraps to your wonderful worms in either a compost or worm farm to close the waste loop.

How do we manage these preferences at OneTable ?

As I mentioned above, I do feel most organic food shoppers are more understanding towards differences in size and shape of their produce, being more aware of and connected to the farmers who are growing it.

Having said that, we also feel we understand why people request smaller piece sizes – the lunchbox dilemma. At OneTable we take our responsibility to our members (picking your produce on your behalf) seriously, as we do our support of farmers.  So if a member specifically asks for small pieces, then that is what we will pack when there is a choice. If that is not specified, then we will try to mix it up a little – some large pieces and some smaller, because that is what is grown and supplied and we understand that. 

If produce is aesthetically odd or marked, we will still pack it if the taste and usability is not affected. We feel our members would be happy with that choice, knowing that organically grown produce is not necessarily perfect to look at, but is certainly a healthier choice. 

What about waste at OneTable?

A great question and we have a couple of great solutions to this.

Foodbanks When we have produce that is still edible but not up to the best quality to pass on to our members, we get it collected by a Foodbank. We have a regular collection by OzHarvest who come to our Brookvale warehouse every week. It is great knowing that perfectly edible organic food is going to a good home.

Local composter We also support a local gentleman who eagerly accepts our next level waste for his many compost bins. Pretty much anything left over by OzHarvest or scraps that are collected along the way are saved up and we regularly call on him to collect this fabulous composting material.

What is your next step?

War on Waste” is a good watch and I encourage you to turn on ABC next Tuesday 8.30pm – 9.30pm for Episode 2 (it turns out it is also replayed on Saturdays at 3).

I also encourage you to stop and think before you pass judgement on the ‘ugly’ capsicum or the large apple.

Come to think of it, back in our first days of buying organic food, I bought an organic corn from a local market and the rows where all over the place and the cob looked a mess. Ben actually exclaimed “I can’t believe you paid good money for that!”. However I persevered and we had it for dinner and his reaction was something like “Oh my goodness! I can’t remember eating corn that good before!”. So good thing Ben gave it a try or we may not be where we are today – helping create healthy families through Certified Organic produce at OneTable.

What do you think? Does size really matter or is it something you can work around? I would really be interested to know your thoughts especially if you have a creative idea or solution. Let me know in the comments below.

Shop here for your Organics

Organically, yours, Judith xx

About the author

Judith has been a passionate organic foodie for more than 10 years.  She loves finding natural alternatives for anything from garden pests to cooking, from cleaning to skincare and is very honest about the idea that convenience is not always for the betterment of society.

Other passions for Judith include Ben, their 4 kiddos, her faith, camping and most things to do with gardens and salt water (not together!). 

Judith is also the co-founder of One Table, an organic food movement whose goals are to help others create healthy families, to recreate a fairer food system in Australia and globally, and to support farmers and producers who love what they do, which is giving back to the land by embracing organic and bio-dynamic practices. 

When Judith isn't writing blogs, doing the accounts, working in the One Table shop, or spinning the plates of a household of 6, she loves her hammock and a sassy Regency era novel.