Grocery shopping, seasonal produce, and food waste; what are we missing?
Take a walk through your local grocery store no matter where you live, the Midwest or Southwest or Northeast or Southeast. There are some obvious differences in appearance, look past the appearance, start buying foods on your grocery list for now what do you see???????
Is the produce section that much different from state to state or even region to region of the country? Just about every, normal size, grocery store will have broccoli, lettuces, apples, oranges, pineapple, kiwi, butternut squash, zucchini, cilantro, parsley, potatoes, onions, blue berries, black berries, strawberries, always bananas, etc. Now take it a step further. Most stores have bakery sections with all the goodies (bread, cookies, doughnuts, and cakes). Most stores have a meat section with bison, beef, pork, chicken, salmon, cod, tilapia. Yes, there are some different offerings from area to area but for the most part the stables are the same no matter where you are. In the middle of the grocery store, is where most of the junk foods (cookies, candies, crackers, chips, pastas, etc.) are, these sections look just about identical no matter where you are and there are always plenty of varieties at all times. Grocery stores keep a full supply of products no matter if they are seasonal or not. No matte where they are grown or how far away they are shipped from. The shelves are stocked for consumers at all times to buy what they want when they want it. What happens to all the food the doesn't make the cut. The foods that aren't sold before the sell by date (that is not well understood), use by date, and best by date.
In short these items are discounted in hopes to sell them quickly then tossed or donated. But just how much is donated? It is hard to determine with but with two of the larger organizations "Feeding America and Food Finders" reports show numbers have doubled in the past 10 years from about 2 billion lbs./year to 4 billion lbs./ year. Which is a great thing but there are still billions of pounds tossed each year. Its estimated, in the United States we toss 1/3 of the food we produce, grocery stores account for about 10% of that. Why is that? Well its simple supple and demand. If the shelves aren't stocked then the customer won't come, then instead the customer goes to their competitor.
So what are stores doing to keep business from walking out the door? Stores will over stock shelves to ensure a solid supply of desired products is always available which inevitably leads to more waste. In fact research suggests purchases increase with overstocked shelves vs shelves that are adequately stocked. Perceived exceptions of perfect produce leads to tossing produce that doesn't "look" as good. Poorly educated consumers avoid purchasing foods that have an old "sell-by-date" which has lead stores to tossing products before their expiration. Unfortunately a lot of this points to consumer preferences.....As a society we have become accustomed to having what we want when we want it.
Is there a solution?
Maybe. Try supporting local produce. Keeping purchases in the community keeps helps to stimulate local economy, reduce fuel needs to ship produce across country, and helps to reduce waste that accumulates as a result short dated produce due to shipping needs. Practice buying produce that is ripe, understand seasonal foods patterns, and using produce that is "ugly" for soups or sauces then "pretty" produce for presentation. In fact "ugly" produce is typically cheaper to buy because its not popular with the crowds. The truth is there is no change in flavor or nutrient values.
Here's another question...promise last one. Do you see banana trees in your neighborhood? No joke I had a produce manager tell me about an irate customer who was unhappy with selection of bananas in that stores produce section. She proceeded to tell the manager he should pick better bananas from the trees out back....in Iowa.....What are we missing here? There is a serious miscue here. People should know where their food comes from. It needs to start from the bottom up. Buy local, learn about the foods you're eating, and enjoy the food you are eating.