In discussions about food waste, we hear a lot about waste in the supply chain that arises because fresh produce doesn’t meet certain cosmetic standards, or because there are surpluses in production and supermarkets don’t want it all, or they change their minds because there’s a forecasted drop in demand, and so forth. As regards the UK, a few initiatives have sprung up explicitly to address this problem - there is for example at least one quite well-known box delivery scheme that provides customers with a mixed selection of produce that is outsized or misshapen or in surplus, as well as vegetable varieties that are being trialled and don’t yet have a commercial outlet and so forth. One or two supermarkets have also been marketing ‘ugly vegetables’ as part of their stated commitments to tackling food waste. However, living in inner London as I do, I see whole armies of ‘bowl men’ (I don’t know their official name - this is what I call them!) selling plastic bowls of fruit and veg at very low cost (e.g. 5 peppers or 4 avocados for a pound, huge bunches of spinach etc.). Where does their produce come from? Surely this mini-industry has also sprung up in response to gluts and supermarket rejections? Are they not also helping reduce food waste but without the moral back-patting that goes with all these other schemes? I am curious because it seems to me that there are class/race issues involved here - buying your veg from an ‘ethical’ box scheme tends to be something that more affluent, educated, overtly eco conscious people do whereas buying from your local bowl man is ‘just’ buying your fruit and veg because it’s cheap. It
doesn’t carry the same ethical kudos but it may be that the impacts are exactly the same. I get a box delivery and I also buy regularly from my local bowl man - what I buy from bowl man is a lot cheaper…
On a related note, it may be that this bowl-man system of provisioning is just replacing the old fruit and veg markets that have now been lost due to supermarket competition although the nature of what’s offered is different (more international produce as compared with the older markets). Farmers’ markets are not really a replacement for these ‘traditional’ markets because, again, they attract higher income, educated, predominantly white customers and their produce is often quite expensive. I haven’t looked into the supply chains of this bowl man sector and so I speak from a position of ignorance (and of course this may be just a London phenomenon but I suspect you get it in some other UK cities), but I’m a. wondering if anyone has explored their waste-environmental implications and b. if anyone has any comments on the way in which the framing of waste reduction approaches links to issues of class, education, race and so forth?