Misshapen produce supplied directly by farmers provides spicy feast to encourage households and businesses to cut food waste.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Waste food feeds 5,000 a lunchtime curry in Trafalgar Square” was written by Mark King, for The Guardian on Friday 18th November 2011 18.25 UTC

Elona Grondona, a school nurse, came to Trafalgar Square in London for one reason – to eat curry. But this was no ordinary meal, Friday’s lunch was served as part of the Feeding the 5,000 initiative, to encourage households and business to reduce food waste.

The Feeding the 5000 team – a coalition of Fareshare, FoodCycle, Love Food Hate Waste and Friends of the Earth, led by food waste expert Tristram Stuart– treated Grondona and 4,999 others to a free meal using food that would otherwise have been wasted, such as cosmetically imperfect fresh fruit and vegetables – in short, wonky carrots.

The misshapen ingredients were not salvaged from nearby skips but supplied directly by farmers who sell their goods to supermarkets. “The supermarkets have strict cosmetic standards, so if a carrot is too long or slightly bent, it either goes in the bin or is left out in the field and simply ploughed back into the ground,” Stuart says. “Today, that’s not happened and all that food is here to be eaten.”

While UK consumers cannot access farmers’ surplus produce, Stuart hopes the event will inspire people to stop wasting food and to demand businesses end the practice of dismissing unsightly goods. Some supermarkets tried selling ugly vegetables in 2008 after an EU ruling meant odd-shaped and oversized produce could be sold in the UK.

As well as the 5,000 portions of curry on offer, a live cooking tent was showing the public how to cook and eat discarded bits of animals such as hearts, lungs and offal (offal consumption has apparently halved in the UK during the past 30 years). There were also 1,600 pints of apple juice ready to be drunk and celebrity chefs turning waste into well-seasoned goodies.

“It’s a fantastic idea,” Grondona says. “Children aren’t getting enough quality food and obesity is a major issue. If the government cannot afford to provide free school meals for everyone, then why not find a way to get all this healthy food that’s being wasted delivered to schools and help cut down the nation’s obesity rate? If all the food that’s here today was destined for landfill, something is seriously wrong with our society.”

The cries of “free lunch, free lunch” from the organisers, who had spent all morning distributing 17,000 flyers, clearly had an effect – Trafalgar Square was swamped with people. When the London mayor, Boris Johnson, arrived to dish out the first portion of free curry the area suddenly turned into a giant rugby scrum.

Johnson, who tucked into a hearty portion of curry while posing for photos, has been working with the London Food Board to raise awareness of waste. He is urging businesses and the public to sign a “Food Waste Pyramid” pledge to reduce the mountains of food needlessly thrown away. He said enough food to fill 11,720 double decker buses, or the Albert Hall 15 times over, is binned every year in London.

“Throwing away mountains of perfectly edible food is crazy at a time when all Londoners are feeling the pinch,” Johnson said. “I want to do all I can to help people to cut waste, save cash by doing so and improve our great city. This is why I am determined to cut the amount of food needlessly sent to landfill. I urge businesses and Londoners to get on board to reduce waste and help to save millions for the capital’s economy.”

Johnson’s food waste pyramid asks businesses to avoid buying surplus food, redistribute any unwanted food to charities, and pass food unfit for human consumption to livestock. Waitrose, New Covent Garden Market, Cafe Spice, Wahaca, Innocent drinks and Abel & Cole have already signed up.

So how was the food? The curry, bursting with potatoes and cauliflower, was nutritious and tasty – if a little underseasoned – with not a crumpled carrot in sight. It could have been a bit hotter, but you can’t expect 5,000 people to like their food fiery. Out of sight of Stuart, I gave the offal a miss.

Stuart, who published Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal in 2009, hopes that if enough members of the public sign up, more businesses will follow and western countries will stop wasting up to half of their food, reducing pressure on the environment and global food supplies.

“Around 80% of people want to see businesses cut food waste,” Stuart says. “We can do it together. People can say ‘I’m going to cut food waste’ and business will do the same and it can become a shared responsibility. There is nothing wrong with the fruit and vegetables we’re throwing away. We want to see whole animals are eaten from nose to tail, so that wonky parsnips are eaten rather than thrown away, so that people can pick an apple from a tree and press it for juice themselves rather than walk past it and buy juice from Tesco.”

Grondona travelled from Surrey to lend her support to the event but others came from further afield. Maria, a 23-year-old dancer from Valencia, is on holiday in the UK and was handed a leaflet while queueing to enter a nearby exhibition. “This is good food,” she says, spooning rice and potato into her mouth. “It’s amazing that these people have given up their free time to feed us. I haven’t seen this happen in Spain.”

Lesley Peyer, from Salisbury, was celebrating her 60th birthday with her daughter. “We’ve become a very wasteful society,” she said. “It’s surprising how many people are obese in this country, and I think it’s more important than ever that people understand what food they eat.”

Perhaps the last word should go to one of the many children attending the event, some of them invited by the charity School Food Matters. Daniel Friend, 12, from Golders Green, said: “I totally agree that we shouldn’t waste food. We should eat it ourselves or give it to animals. It makes the bins stink too.”

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