When we first started talking about The Smallest Light my initial thought was DOWN WITH TESCO! After having grown up in Beeston, I was angered to see people kicked out of their homes, and saddened that the humble little tin shed pet shop where I bought my childhood pets from was forced to close in order to make room for an unnecessary Tesco Extra. A fight had been going on for years between the pet shop and the massive conglomerate but unfortunately the owners eventually gave up the fight. But please don’t be too disheartened with Tesco, they were kind enough to place a plaque for the pet shop on the brick wall where the shop used to stand, all you needed in order to see the plaque was a step ladder.
I started doing a lot of research about the supermarket chain and realised that not only are they trying to make every town in the UK look the same, they are also trying to take over the world, so how did I think that I’d be able to make any kind of difference? I didn’t want to waste my time just being angry with the company; I wanted to do something positive. I started focusing my attention on local independent shops and food in general, and that research led to a TED talk in which a man called Tristram Stuart talked about food waste (I’d definitely recommend watching it). In the talk he asked how many people eat the crusts on their loaves of bread at home, to which most of the audience put their hands up, he then asked why we never see crusts on pre-packaged sandwiches and went on to show a photograph of a bin at the back of a sandwich factory that was full of slices of bread. The factory throws away four slices of bread from every loaf which works out at around 16,000 slices of bread a day! I couldn’t believe it. I was angry again. That’s potentially 8,000 sandwiches everyday that could go to people suffering from food poverty. After the talk I found his website Feeding the 5000 which gave me lots more interesting information and led me to the Gleaning Network UK’s page. Gleaning Network UK is a brilliant scheme set up to rescue fruit and vegetables that would otherwise be wasted. I knew straight away that I wanted to get involved.
It was Saturday 6th April and it was 5.30am. And, no, I wasn’t just getting home from a night out; I was, in fact, just getting up. I was going to be travelling to Norfolk to harvest parsnips that would otherwise go to waste as, for one reason or another, they didn’t meet the supermarkets’ ‘cosmetic standards’. Farmers up and down the country have to overproduce fruit and vegetables to make sure they meet the amount of acceptable produce agreed with the supermarkets otherwise they’ll be fined. I find it difficult to believe that fruit and vegetables could possibly be too ‘ugly’ to be deemed edible, but apparently it’s true, and that’s what the scheme tries to combat.
It was a perfect sunny day to spend in a field in Norfolk. We watched the farmer lift the parsnips out of the ground and then began working our way down the field sorting through them and putting any that were suitable in crates. There were a lot that looked like what you’d expect to see in shops but maybe a little too big or small, but there were also some like I’d never seen before. There were parsnips with legs, parsnips with horns, and parsnips with hair. During the day we had a competition to see who could find the strangest looking parsnip. It was fun; there were a lot of pairs of legs.. Someone even discovered a pair of parsnip legs with a worm placed perfectly between them moving in a seductive way. This was a sight I never thought I’d see and which kept us amused for a long time! When we discovered the first pair of legs and it was quite a big moment for us: it was funny, unusual, and something to show off about, but then a little later it stopped being so much of a novelty because we were finding so many of them. We discovered that two legged parsnips were actually quite common. So, why aren’t they being stocked in supermarkets? Why are they being wasted? Is it because from a young age we were told not to play with our food? I mean can you imagine the fun to be had having parsnip races? Or, is that just me..? The point is we’re not given the option of buying them. We’re living in a superficial age where a lot of people worry about how they look, the media makes us feel inadequate and we’re always striving to be better, look better, do better, and, as a result of this, we’re spending more money on things we don’t need. And now we’re being made to worry about how our fruit and vegetables look. If you go into a supermarket you will find that fruit and vegetables of the same type are generally similar in size. They won’t look ‘abnormal’, they won’t have horns, or legs or anything else that may actually bring a smile to people’s faces.
Over one third of the world’s food is being wasted and yet there are so many people living in food poverty, why is this? Before embarking on this project I was aware that there was a lot of food going to waste but was oblivious as to the scale of the problem. Why is so much food being wasted? I spent one day harvesting parsnips in a field full of them, there were 8 of us and we only made it down one row of the field. So many more lay in the ground that will sadly get wasted, but we did manage to save 1.1 tonnes of them which will be going to FareShare where they will then be distributed to charities in need of food. After all, every little helps. Right?