In the past decade, requirements we have as shoppers have changed. With the mammoth weekly shop becoming a distant memory, we find ourselves more often popping out with merely a scrunched up plastic bag in the pocket, walking down to the nearest shop for a few ingredients for that evening’s meal. As grocery shopping habits transform, it is expected that by 2019 we will spend more in “convenience stores, discounter stores and online than in large supermarkets”(1). These changes are paralleled by a marked cultural and societal shift towards locally grown, seasonal fruit and vegetables. This reflects a nation increasingly aware of food waste, unnecessary packaging and so-called “Ugly Veg”. (Indeed, in the aftermath of ‘Brexit’ an often discussed topic was the EU’s ‘perfect banana’ law.) The success of companies such as Love Food Hate Waste and Spare Harvest show that communities are making real progress in reducing food waste. The popularity of accounts such as @uglyfruitandveg on Instagram highlighting the beauty of ‘ugly’ veg, and Asda’s release of ‘Wonky Veg Boxes’ show that vegetables in all shapes and sizes have a place in the family home.
Unfortunately, it is clear that increased demand for convenient shopping and heightened awareness of the issues surrounding fruit and veg do not necessarily go hand in hand. This is highlighted by the conflict of reducing food packing and food waste, with the need to keep food fresh for longer with versatile packing that protects the food and is also potentially freezable. This problem only exists because food is being stored for longer; the solution? Buy less, more often. It is only communities that can resolve this problem, by offering easy access to fresh local produce and seasonal fruit and vegetables. No matter how aware people may be of the urgent issues, without a solution available in their local community ensuring access to local produce, at a reasonable price and with minimal effort, we cannot expect a necessary dramatic transformation to occur.
So how should communities respond? To create real meaningful change action needs to be taken to bring back the greengrocers and address the need for convenient, local, fresh, reasonably priced and reasonably packaged food. This can only occur at the community level, and social enterprises like “MeetandVeg” aim to create a replicable template that can be used by communities to create a destination and retail space that is run by and for the community. MeetandVeg has recently opened a crowdfunding page with the aim of starting a Community Interest Company (CIC) project providing access to seasonal fruit and vegetables in a friendly, sustainable environment. Going beyond the realms of a greengrocers, Meetandveg, as the name suggests, also offers a place for people to meet, and share their love for food. Lacking a green grocers within a 3 mile radius of the location, Epsom (a town in England) serves as the perfect spot to fill the identifiable gap in the market.
This is just the kind of solution we need to truly tackle the twin problems of food waste and a lack of widespread access to fresh local produce. It is with community projects targeting these issues that large-scale paradoxical global problems of both poverty and obesity, can be addressed. Meetandveg encompasses the need to improve food education about nutrition, cooking and wastage, both sustainably and ethically in a vibrant and accessible environment. At the same time, it begins to sow the fabric of our society back together by reinvigorating the high street and supporting the community from the roots up by buying locally.
To find out more about this project, to pledge, or to get advice on how you can start something similar in your local community head to www.meetandveg.co.uk