Tuesday 23 January 2018

The Good Life: You won't throw away food you grow

Food growers waste less food.
Food growers waste less food.

Michael Kelly

Ireland is one of Europe's top food-waste offenders, but growing your own can reduce this..

The issue of food waste has been in the news of late when it emerged recently that up to 30pc of food produced for human consumption is wasted by being either lost out of the supply chain or wasted in various ways across the world food system.

The problem is diverse and complicated – a lot of it is down to consumers buying too much food and then dumping it when they don't use it.

But there are other factors – farmers are often forced to dump vegetables and fruit that don't conform to a supermarket ideal of perfect size and shape. And supermarkets themselves will often dump perfectly good food if it is short-dated.

In Ireland, we are one of Europe's worst offenders, producing almost one million tonnes of food waste annually.

The average Irish person generates 280kg of food waste a year, which costs us €700 to €1,000 per household – that's the price of a decent family holiday that we're throwing in to the bin every year.

For every three bags of shopping we bring home, we effectively throw away one of them.

This is bad enough when one considers that we're in the teeth of a recession, but particularly acute when some surveys suggest that as many as 15pc of Irish people are living in food poverty. That we are wasting so much food in this context is a disgrace – a national embarrassment.

You might not be surprised to hear that I think that food growing can play a significant role in reducing our food-waste mountain.

Though I have no hard data to back up this assertion, I think that food growers (at whatever level they are growing) simply waste less food.

GIYers are notoriously frugal, going to great lengths to find ways to store and preserve the food we've grown – this is because when you've gone to the hassle of growing something, you're unlikely to want to waste it.

A key facet of the food-waste issue is consumers simply buying too much, stocking the shelves of cupboard and fridge with food that will never be eaten.

This is rarely a problem with home-grown food, where you can simply pick what you need, as you need it.

Ironically, given the effort involved in growing it, home-grown food is the ultimate convenience food – you can head down to the veg patch and dig a few spuds for the dinner.

Why buy an expensive plastic pouch of rosemary, for example, which will probably end up rotting in the fridge when you can grow a plant in a pot (even indoors) and snip some off it as you need it?

Supermarkets have forced a belief on us that all vegetables and fruit must be perfectly uniform and unblemished to be edible.

This is a nonsense and you have to consider what interventions are necessary to make it a reality.

I would prefer to eat a lettuce leaf that has some slug holes in it, than a leaf that has been sprayed with chemicals to keep the slugs off it. I've always been a believer in the notion that the battle to bring some common sense back in to our relationship with food will be won not by convincing the whole world to grow all their own food, but by encouraging the majority of people to try growing some of their own food. Even by growing some herbs or salads on a windowsill, you get an appreciation of food – an understanding of the length of time it takes and the effort that goes in to growing it.

This is key, because fundamentally the food waste issue arises because we simply don't value food.

Little wonder – it has become commoditised to the point where we don't really mind whether we eat it or waste it.

Supermarkets compete with one another to see who can sell it the cheapest. They dump it if it's not perfectly uniform.

Food growers, on the other hand, understand how valuable food really is – they respect it.

Ask a first-time grower whether they would sell you their first bunch of home-grown carrots for €2 and they will most likely tell you that they wouldn't sell them for €200 or €2,000.

The act of growing the carrots – of raking the soil to a fine tilth; of being down on your knees sowing the seeds; of fretting over the carrot root fly; of watering and weeding; the time and effort put in to the process – has made them, suddenly, immensely valuable.

So perhaps appropriately, this week is GIY Sow a Seed Week, sponsored by Woodies DIY, and we're putting a big push to encourage people to sow seeds.

If you're a food grower (at whatever level) you can help: Show your friends and family how to sow seeds.

Get the kids involved – sign up to Operation GIY Nation and we will send you six easy monthly projects to get you started.

Bring some pots, compost and seeds to work and show five colleagues how to GIY. If you're in a GIY group or other community organisation why not organise a seed-sowing demonstration at a local market or meeting?

Check www.giyireland.com/events for a full listing of events.

Michael Kelly is author of 'Trading Paces' and 'Tales from the Home Farm', and founder of GIY.

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