Remember the great banana famine of 2011? The year that a single banana cost more than a chocolate bar? It was tough times for banana lovers. The devastation wreaked by Cyclone Yasi in northern Queensland virtually wiped out the state’s entire banana crop and consequently prices were driven through the roof (Queensland produces ninety percent of Australia’s bananas). You may wonder why I am taking a trip down memory lane. Well, because it is so very easy to forget how things were when times were tough. A week or two ago I bought ten bananas for $2. That’s far cry from paying $2 for one measly banana just a few years back. When produce is readily available and in abundance one can fall into the trap of failing to value it to the degree it deserves. The old adage “you never miss a good thing until it’s gone” is certainly true. I’m not just rambling on about bananas for the sake of it – the waste part is coming up very soon.
The other day I came across an article detailing why Australia needs a food waste strategy (a brilliant idea and one that should occur ASAP if you ask me). There I was reading along, nodding my head in agreement and bam! This jumps out at me “ 15 to 50 per cent of the total banana production reaching packing sheds…rejected…didn’t meet the specifications of supermarkets…” Say what?! Even if we only consider the more positive end of the spectrum, perhaps a quarter of all bananas grown in Queensland are churned back into the ground. It makes me wonder if during our banana shortage the same thing was happening. Even if the bananas looked a tad sad, I know that I at least would have bought them – life without bananas is mournful.
As consumers I believe we should have a far bigger say in what produce is deemed ‘fit for sale’ and what is not. The supermarkets appear to be so concerned about the aesthetics of produce that they fail to consider the wastage that ensues from their decisions. It is understandable that they connect the visual appeal of produce with sales statistics – the most attractive almost always sells first. Therefore we should be making a push to advocate ‘ugly’ fruit and veg. If we can make our voices heard, then hopefully change can begin to occur. In this case not only are the farmers losing out, but we are too. Perhaps not on a personal level, but certainly as a society as a whole. Less produce bumps prices up, meaning that some foods become inaccessible to particular social groups. For example, as a student on a tight budget, I know that it can be tempting to choose cheaper options over more expensive yet healthier ones. Furthermore, consider those who go hungry every night – I’m sure they would be grateful for a banana or two, even if they aren’t the prettiest ones in the box.
It may seem that I’m heading down the same track as last week’s waste related post – only pretty fruit and veg is sold blah blah blah. Well I hope that I have adequately explained the difference. Last week was about being prepared to purchase fruit and veg already in the supermarkets. This week I’m urging you to encourage supermarkets to stock more of that not-so-perfect produce. Alternatively, we can push for government to provide incentives for farmers to pass produce deemed unworthy of supermarket sale on to organisations such as Foodbank, rather than churning it back into the ground. Rather than it being used as fertiliser for next year’s crop, these organisations can use it to create wholesome meals for the disadvantaged.
Let’s not take for granted what we have at present and strive to make the most of our crops in all their entirety, ugly bruised ones and all. We may not be directly responsible for the waste that occurs before produce reaches the supermarket, but our choices – and voices – significantly influence it.