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Fifteen million tonnes of food is wasted every year in the UK. While nearly half comes from household waste, an estimated 20 to 40 per cent of UK fruit and vegetables are rejected even before they reach the shops because of cosmetic standards or surplus production.

In the aftermath of the European Year Against Food Waste and with the Fabian Society due to report on food and poverty in summer 2015, the time is ripe for volunteers, supermarkets, and entrepreneurs to converge in the battle against food waste to divert millions of portions of fruit and veg back into the hands and mouths of the people.

Ripe for picking

Since Tristram Stuart held the first Feeding the 5,000 event in Trafalgar Square on a cold and gloomy winter’s lunchtime in 2009, the campaign against food waste has been growing. The debate has evolved from highlighting how much is wasted to taking proactive steps to harvest food that would be otherwise left to rot in farms through ‘gleaning’.

Gleaning networks have been sprouting up across the country since 2011. After winning Nesta’s Waste Reduction Challenge Prize in 2013, the charity FeedBack now has six gleaning hubs in the UK. A further three are planned in 2015. This work has rescued hundreds of thousands of portions of fruit and veg, which have been directly distributed via FareShare and other partners to people in need.

The potential in 2015 is even bigger. FeedBack estimates that it will save over 200 tonnes of fruit and vegetables, equivalent to over 2.7 million portions, next year.

Wonky fruit rebellion

We’ve already seen a growth of gleaning networks in France, Spain, Belgium, Greece and Poland, but it’s actually the novel approach of supermarkets like Intermarché that have really captured the imagination. Earlier this year, the French supermarket set out to change attitudes to ‘wonky’ fruit and veg by making it a viable and appealing option for consumers to buy directly, which they did in droves. Waitrose in the UK is following suit by stocking ‘weather beaten’ fruit and veg. Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Asda – take note!

Alongside a handful of supermarkets, savvy entrepreneurs are finding ways to transform the ugly sisters of the fruit and veg world into appealing new products.

2012 New Radicals alumnus, Rubies in the Rubble, started creating tasty jams and chutneys from surplus fruit and vegetables in 2010. The products are now stocked in Waitrose, Selfridges and independent stores across Britain and Ireland. London-based Snact successfully raised more than £13,000 in 35 days through crowdfunding earlier this year to scale up its fruit jerky venture, while Dutch Kromkrommer is building a ’krommunity’ as well as wholesome soups from its crooked vegetables.

Further still, places such as Bristol Café have been set up by the Real Junk Food Project, to provide affordable meals for people in need based on the original ‘pay as you feel’ model in Leeds.

2015 will see more of these ventures hitting our high street shelves as consumers join the rebellion against the perfectly formed carrot. And if they don’t, I’ll eat my cabbage-shaped hat!