It was a conversation with a farmer about his “imperfect” patty pans that struck Professor Suzan Oelofse about how food is wasted in South Africa.
Oelofse, a principal researcher at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), was doing research for a study that she led, which shows how in South Africa an estimated 10.3-million tonnes a year of edible food does not reach people’s stomachs.
“This farmer sells patty pans, which grow quickly once the fruit starts forming,” she says. “They harvest [from] Monday until lunchtime on Saturday and every day the patty pans are the same size. But by [the following] Monday morning, they’re sometimes nearly double the size because now a day and a half’s growth has happened.”
These patty pans are too large for retailers, Oelofse says.
“They want 10 or 12 per punnet that they can package because this is what they perceive the consumer wants. The over-sized ones are either donated or sent to the informal market where they sit outside in the sun, so the shelf-life is shortened and they often go to waste.”
Oelofse says consumers have been “trained” by retailers to demand perfection and uniformity in shape, size and colour.
“I always say that people tend to forget that fresh fruit and vegetables don’t come out of a factory with a mould for only round tomatoes or straight cucumbers.”