How to cut the hidden food waste you didn’t know existed

When we think about food waste, we might think about the leftovers we throw in the bin or the mouldy fruit we forgot to eat, but what about the waste that happens far before it gets to our kitchens? The ‘wonky’ vegetables and carrot tops that have been deemed unworthy of our supermarket shelves. The chicken carcasses and fish heads discarded in favour of the prize cuts. The unsold pastries, sandwiches and bread that bakers have to chuck at the end of the day, or the perfectly edible unsold food that’s past its ‘best-before’.

As consumers, this is the food waste we never see but nevertheless mountains of edible food end up in landfill. Just one of these examples was uncovered a few years ago when it was found that major supermarkets routinely rejected between 20% to 40% of perfectly edible fruit and vegetables from their suppliers because they were too misshapen or ‘wonky’ to meet their demands. Supermarkets believed that their customers wouldn’t want odd-shaped tomatoes or crooked carrots so farmers were forced to plough tonnes of fresh produce back into the land, feed it to their animals or throw it into landfill. When the scandal made it into the headlines, there was uproar. Supermarkets started trialling cheaper, ‘ugly’ vegetables and people started buying them.

Wonky vegetables got the rebrand they needed but it nevertheless shows how disjointed our food supply chains have become and the avoidable, unnecessary waste that happens as a result.

As everyday shoppers, do we have the power to cut unnecessary food waste even before it gets to our home? We think so.

Whether you’re a farmer, shopkeeper, café owner or consumer, nobody feels good dumping food in the bin. We believe that together we can vote with our fork, create demand for surplus food and make waste a thing of the past.

Here are five ways you can put a stop to unnecessary supply chain food waste every time you shop:

1. Rescue unsold food from cafés and restaurants at a discount.

Karma helps make supply chains less disjointed by helping business owners, from shops to cafés to bakeries, redirect their delicious surplus food to those who want it, and shoppers benefit by getting it half price.

2. What’s wrong with wonky?
Until recently, few people knew that supermarkets rejected tonnes of perfectly edible fruit and vegetables based purely on their aesthetic. Next time you’re at the supermarket, cornershop or farmer’s market, look out for the wonkier, misshapen produce and be sure to buy it. If you have children, this is a great starting point to teach them about their food and where it comes from.

Set up their sustainable eating habits for life and head to your local farmer’s market to see the different shapes, sizes and varieties of produce available and celebrate veg in all their wonkiness!

3. Buy it whole.
At some point before pre-packaged chicken breasts, fish fillets and chopped carrots made it to our shop shelves, someone had to remove the chicken carcass, fish heads and carrot tops. What happens to them? Without demand for these offcuts, they often end up in the bin.

Swap chicken breasts for a whole bird, for example, then either joint it at home (there are plenty of easy guides online or ask your butcher to do it) or roast it whole. Pop the leftover carcass into a pot with vegetable scraps, peppercorns and a pinch of salt, cover with water and simmer for a couple of hours to make chicken stock.

Choose whole fish and bake it whole in tin foil with slices of lemon and plenty of salt and pepper. Fishmongers routinely throw away bin-loads of fish bones and heads after they’ve filleted the day’s catch and it costs them a fortune to incinerate the waste. Ask at the fish counter for the fish heads and throw them into a soup for richness, flavour and a surprising amount of fleshy meat. If you find carrots or beetroots with their leaves attached, chop them into a pesto or wilt them down with garlic in a pan.

4. Cut out the middlemen.
Shopping directly from farmers, fishmongers, butchers and producers is a good way to shorten supply chains and reduce the chance of food waste. Ask producers what they have a surplus of.

You might find they sell their surplus at a discount, such as unloved cuts of meat, like chicken livers, lamb’s heart and the bones that are full of nutrition and flavour. Or head to your local market at the end of the day and see if there’s a glut of produce being sold off cheaply.

5. Order a Karma box.
Covid-19 has seen restaurants and cafés shutting for the moment which means there’s a huge amount of surplus food from wholesalers across the country. Look out for our new Karma box. We’re partnering up with wholesalers across the city, to put together an essential Karma box full of funny shaped fruits, vegetables and other items that you can order and have delivered directly to your door.