Thursday, 23 February 2017

Economic Myths: "We all hate wasting food"

Quite clearly we don't, or we wouldn't do it, but people keep bringing up the topic, so here goes...

For example, they have posters up at my local Tesco saying Love Food Hate Waste. They had a segment on a recent Food Unwrapped programme (which are very interesting programmes on the whole) where one of them was interviewing a farmer who employs people to sort carrots for the supermarkets. About a third of them are not 'supermarket quality' i.e. long, straight and easy to peel and these are chucked on a huge pile and sold for animal feed etc.

The presenter then got on his Righteous Horse, bagged up some of the odd-shaped ones and got permission to sell them in a supermarket for half the price of the long, straight ones. "They taste just as good as the long straight ones", he explained breathlessly to a few Righteous Shoppers who bought them.

1. Well of course they taste the same, that's not the issue here - they just aren't as easy to peel and chop. Peeling and chopping carrots is a chore and you want to get it done as quick as poss, so people who value their own time are quite happy to pay double for fairly uniform, long, straight ones.

2. It's like pre-washed lettuce. If we were given bags of unsorted carrots, assuming that people value their own time, it would make economic sense to buy more than you need, peel and chop the easy ones and chuck the rest in the compost. There is simply no point faffing about for ten minutes rescuing ten pence worth of carrots.

3. Farmers are businesses like anybody else, and of course there are unwanted by-products. They are quite happy to throw away all the carrot leaves, the odd-shaped carrots are just a by-product, the same as the leaves.

4. In theory, farmers could reduce their carrot production by one-third, see a corresponding fall in income and use the spare land for growing something else. We have to assume that markets have sorted that out and that growing more carrots (even if a third end up being sold for pennies) gives them the most extra income compared to growing more of something else. So in economic terms, this is not waste - they are maximising the value of their output.

19 comments:

A K Haart said...

The presenter could feed cheap rejected carrots to his Righteous Horse and reject fossil fuel travel completely.

paulc156 said...

Best thing would be GM carrots that come ready peeled.

Mark Wadsworth said...

AKH, on his other series, he drives round with the fat tongued mockney twat on an old Ford Capri.

PC, I was trying to think of a kind of vegetable that didn't need to be peeled and chopped to use as a counter-example. Are there any?

paulc156 said...

MW. Potatoes. Best with their skins on and some of the weird ones look like mutants.

Dinero said...

Asda have sold wobbly carrots and they also sell pre peeled onions - Both extremes of the scale there.

No peel no chop - cherry tomatoes , sprouting Broccoli, lettuce.

Mike W said...

Best thing would be GM carrots that come ready peeled.

Paulc. Monsanto have already grown them - straight and peeled. They also have the cooking instructions running through the middle like Blackpool rock ;)

Steven_L said...

Well I quite like carrots non-peeled, non-chopped and raw. I always have done.

Mark Wadsworth said...

PC, you still need to give them a scrub, and smooth ones are easier to scrub.

Din, tomatoes are fruit, agreed that the shape of the other two is irrelevant.

MW, you had me until you got to cooking instructions.

Lola said...

"..About a third of them are not 'supermarket quality' i.e. long, straight and easy to peel and these are chucked on a huge pile and sold for animal feed etc.... So NOT wasted then. Prat.

Lola said...

This is so stupid. To get straight carrots you have to grow lots of carrots. But there is very little if any marginal cost in growing the crooked carrots. In fact the crooked carrots are a bonus and the farmer can make extra dosh by selling them to all the horsey idiots round my way.

Dinero said...

If there really actually is an abundance of carrots then it is pointless to use the crooked carrots which involves spending fuel on transporting the crooked carrots to the shops .

Mark Wadsworth said...

SL, I too like the occasional raw carrot, but I'd always peel or at least scrub them. Scrubbing straight carrots is also easier than faffing about with small or bendy ones.

L, exactly. It is clearly not waste or else the farmer's would not do it. Good point re marginal costs - if income from two units straight and one unit odd-shape exceeds marginal cost of growing three units, and if total profit is greater than growing something else, then this is a sensible economic decision and not waste.

Din, exactly.

Dinero said...

To put it simply if you have an abundance of something you use the best first. In which case the supermarkets are not banning crooked carrots for being under a standard , they are part of a process of sorting them in quality order as any allotment holder does.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Din, that's another way of explaining it.

L fairfax said...

I understand your arguments I cannot understand why some people buy things like fish etc and then let them go off. Surely there would be some learning process, that this will last x days therefore I must either eat now or not buy it. Unless you are very thick or very rich the time taken to do this must save a lot more than you earn in an hour.

L fairfax said...

I should have explained that I meant you would earn/save a lot more per hour of calculation. As in 30 seconds you would save e.g £2 - the equivalent of taking home £120 per hour.

Bayard said...

Isn't this just another classic case of missing the point entirely? When people talk about hating food waste, they are usually talking about food that the supermarkets chuck into landfill, not farmers selling below-grade carrots as horse-feed. No doubt that was covered in another episode. I had a classic case of this recently. The shopper in front of me in the queue for the till wanted to buy some bananas. The shop assistant spotted they were beyond their sell-by date and told the customer she would have to get another bag (yes, they were in a plastic bag, I suppose they wouldn't have had anywhere to put the pointless sell-by date if they hadn't). I had a look at the bananas and they weren't even properly ripe, so I asked what would now happen to them and was told that they had to be thrown away, not sold for less or even given away. No-one must eat them, they must be wasted.

Lola said...

B. That is the classic example of bureaucratic stupidity creating chaos in the spontaneous order of freedom and markets. And nannying, of course.

Mark Wadsworth said...

LF, that is rank stupidity. I just buy stuff I know I will cook in the next three days.

B, L, agreed, that really is food waste.