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Edge of The Lettuce: how much food are we wasting?


Recently I’ve been trying to use up what we've got in the cupboards: putting those soft bendy carrots in a soup, eating the brown edge of the lettuce and peeling the wrinkled skin off the courgette that's so old it could claim a pension.

Not because I'm tight.

But because I've started seeing things a different way.

That courgette took the trouble to grow. In fact, when I look at the label, I notice it spent its tender years in Morocco, then got its veggie-passport and flew all the way to the UK to retire in the crisper drawer of my refrigerator. It bathed in African sunshine and took nutrients from African soil. It thrived under the care of a Moroccan farmer and drank the water the farmer could have drunk (Morocco's a dry land bordering the Sahara). A whole LOT of effort and resources went into that courgette’s life and it’s stayed in my fridge, unwanted and unused, going mouldy because I bought it in a bumper pack.

Once I've put the continent-hopping zucchini and his sad old veg friends to useful employment, I allow myself a trip to the supermarket. I pull into the carpark feeling rather holy. As I'm unloading my groceries at the checkout though, an elderly Indian couple join the queue behind me. The woman is grey-haired, tiny, sparrow-like, and she's wearing a dazzling white sari. The man is dressed in immaculate white too. They look amazing, like shining angels in the checkout queue, but they look a little lost too, so I smile at them.

The man smiles back.

'For month?' he says.

I look apologetic; he's got a heavy accent. 'Sorry?'

'For month? Or for week?' He points at my shopping.

I have vegetables and fruit, milk, bread, eggs, cheese, a bottle of squash and 3 packs of microwaveable popcorn because they’re on offer. I hesitate. It is a weekly shop, but some of the items will last a month. He’s not looking for a detailed explanation though, so I answer 'week'. He pulls down the corners of his mouth in a considering-type frown and nods slowly. I look at my items. Could we live on that for a month? If I'd bought a bag of rice, some flour and yeast, lentils, instead of the popcorn?

'Four of us,' I say, holding up four fingers, trying to justify myself.

'Four,' he repeats. His eyes scan my shopping again. Then he turns to his wife and says something I don't understand. She looks at my shopping too, then nods like him - not in disapproval or amazement, but serious-like, as if she were studying the shopping of an extra-terrestrial. The man and I talk a little, with pointing and single words. He asks me what the blackcurrant squash is and then translates to his wife who looks at the squash puzzled.

When I turn round the cashier's waiting. As I pay she tries to catch my eye, but I don’t let her because I can see she wants to shake her head and roll her eyes. I pack my shopping, say goodbye to the angels and take my plentiful groceries to the car.

My heart still sinks when I see rubbery browning carrots in the fridge and I feel too busy to make soup. But, y'know. Perspective.

Next post: The Power In Your Plate: 8 Reasons to Eat Less Meat

Recipes for sad old veg: Cheap and Tasty Vegetarian and Vegan Recipes

Emma is a columnist and feature writer for Liberti Magazine.

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