The green beans are fresh, the broccoli crunchy and the baby corn sweet, but having failed “cosmetic” tests of international supermarkets, the Kenyan-grown food was hurled out as waste.
However, on Tuesday vegetables considered too ugly for shop-shelves were served at a special dinner for about 100 global environment ministers and top-level delegations to highlight the “scandal” of large scale, but entirely unnecessary food wastage.
The meal, held at the Nairobi-based UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), was organized by anti-food waste campaigner Tristram Stuart, who collected about 1,600kg of unwanted fruit and vegetables in Kenya for the meal.
“No economic, environmental or ethical argument can be made to justify the extent of food waste,” UNEP boss Achim Steiner told the dinner, where the previously tossed-out food was served up by top chefs.
UNEP is campaigning to slash the current 1.3 billion tonnes of food lost or wasted each year as part of efforts to ease the environmental impact on an “already straining global food system.”
Kenya is a key market for export of fresh vegetables to European supermarkets.
However, similar displays of the “disproportionate power of supermarkets” over farmers producing for export are found worldwide, Stuart said, showing images of rotting bananas in Ecuador, oranges in Florida or tomatoes in Tenerife.
“It is a huge scandal, but also a huge opportunity” for change, said Stuart, who said he was “genuinely shocked and distressed” at the amount of vegetables in Kenya rejected by supermarkets and thrown away.
Stuart criticized the “particularly pernicious practices” of international supermarkets with overly strict standards for appearance that will bin beans for being too long or not green enough.
Supermarkets also cancel orders after vegetables had been harvested, said Stuart, a British environmental campaigner who created the ‘Feeding the 5,000’ organization to encourage cuts in food waste.
While some unwanted produce is sold on the local market or donated, so much is rejected that much is left to rot or fed to livestock, prompting resentment among Kenyan farmers hit with the lost revenue, he added.
And some producers sign contracts with supermarket chains that block them from selling unwanted food on local markets or even donating it to charities, with farmers allowed only to use the vegetables for animal feed.
“If it happens in Kenya, it is also happening elsewhere in Africa, in Asia and Latin America,” UNEP spokesman Nick Nuttall said. “This could be just the tip of the iceberg.”
Ministers were served a five-course meal including grilled sweet corn, lentils with tamarind and tiramisu made with mangoes.