Consume but be sensible | Global Ideas | DW | 04.06.2015
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Global Ideas

Consume but be sensible

We're used to buy most things we want when we want. To boot, every item in our basket has to look good. It's not exactly ecological behavior. But a growing sustainable consumption trend is raising awareness.

Worldwide, billions of tons of food ends up in trash cans and rubbish dumps each year. It's either tossed aside by us consumers or the supermarkets where we shop. But much of what is thrown away is still edible. The food piles up in dumpsters because it could not be sold quickly enough and had to make way for follow-up supplies waiting to fill store shelves. Sometimes fruit and vegetables are discarded simply because they don't meet our exacting standards of food beauty. We - supermarkets and customers - have become used to this kind of consumption.

But in recent years, a number of campaigns have declared war on excessive food waste and mindless consumption in favor of something more sustainable. "Consume with Care" is the motto for this year's World Environment Day, so Global Ideas has collected five such ecological projects, some of which have been running successfully for years.

1.) French supermarkets can no longer throw away produce
Just recently, France banned large supermarkets from throwing away unsold but edible food. Products past their best-before date and bruised fruit are not necessarily unfit for human consumption, the authorities claimed. A lot of food ends up in dumpsters each year in France. Each French person will throw away about 30 kilograms a year, totalling about 20 billion euros worth of food altogether. Compared to some European neighbors, the number is relatively low. More wasteful Germans bin 82 kilograms each annually. Now, French supermarkets will have to donate the surplus to charities.

#DYK: Best-before dates are advisory and food kept after the date is not necessarily harmful but may begin to lose flavor and quality. The term "use by" indicates a food may no longer be safe to eat beyond a specified date.

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Second Bäck Store

2.) A new lease of life for old bread: Second Bäck
Vesta Heyn follows a similar approach with her "Second Bäck" store. The Berlin-based company offers "old" bread that is still fine to eat. The bread and baked goods are leftover from the day before and come from a dozen bakeries in the city. Heyn has been running her business for 15 years now, long before sustainability and recycling became fashionable.

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Real Junk Food (mp3)

3.) Waste foodie
Food destined for the bin can even be turned into haute cuisine without spoiled foodies detecting the difference. The Real Junk Food Project in the British city of Leeds is a good example. The chefs here also collect goods that would otherwise be dumped, turning them into healthy and nutritious meals for everyone, the project managers say. The project works on a "pay what you can or want" basis.

#DYK: According the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization, one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally, amounting to about 1.3 billion tons per year. Ten percent of rich countries' greenhouse gas emissions comes from growing food that is never eaten.

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Ugly fruit (mp3)

4.) Ugly food
As the old saying goes, "we eat with our eyes." If the flawless fruit and vegetables in the supermarket fresh produce section are anything to go by, perhaps it's true. Misshapen or dented apples and carrots don't make it to store shelves and are discarded instead. But some are trying to change our perceptions of "ugly" fruit and veg. Last year, French supermarket chain Intermarché brought fruit that hadn't passed the beauty test. The company sold fruit at 30 percent cheaper than its better-looking counterparts, either whole or processed into soups or juices.

The Culinary Misfits in Berlin follow a similar approach. The company is putting "ugly but interesting" food back on our plates in a bid to increase acceptance of freaky fruit and veg.

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Prinzessinnengarten in Berlin

5. Urban Gardening
Agriculture in cities has been around for as long as cities have existed. This so-called urban farming comes in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes urbanites may jointly lease an area to grow food there.
Others use guerilla gardening to green city wastelands. Even the old idea of allotment gardens, where city residents - tired of the rat race - use their weekends to grow cucumbers and turnips, is part of this urban agricultural movement. In perhaps a more updated version of the allotment, rooftops are also being used to grow and harvest tomatoes and other produce.

Urban agriculture not only provides food but brings with it other benefits, including better air quality. That's because the trip from producer to consumer is much shorter, meaning fewer pollutants are spewed into the sky. It perhaps also helps to raise awareness among city-dwellers - so far removed from the farm - of how much effort it takes to get products to the supermarket. The 800 million people who practice urban agriculture worldwide can't be wrong.

#DYK: Fruit and vegetables lose up to 50 percent of nutrients on the way from the ground and tree to the supermarket shelf. Urban farming shortens the trip, meaning products are more nutritious.

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