Provencal markets have been going eco green as France tries to put an end to food waste. Travellers and tourists can also do their bit to help. Eat ugly vege, recycle glass jars and be a chic bag lady.
France passed a law in December to reduce the estimated 7 million tonnes of food wasted in the country each year. The world population is due to rise from 7 to 9 billion by 2050 and, according to the World Food Program, mankind wastes between 30 and 50 per cent of the food it produces.
But there have been regional initiatives before now. Ecoscience Provence – with funding from the European Commission – carried out an in-depth study on the waste produced at the produce market of Brignoles in 2013. The market serves a regional population of 50,000 people. The study revealed a large quantity of non-recovered, mainly food waste was produced every week (between 1 and 2 tonnes). There were no recycling provisions. Considering there are hundreds of produce markets all over France, this adds up big.
Brignoles (pop approx 15,000) is a gorgeously picturesque town in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region in southern France, where every town seems gorgeously picturesque.
Ecoscience Provence, the SIVED (intermunicipal syndicate for waste recovery and disposal) and Brignoles council then launched a program for eco-management. This long-term project involves: Collecting waste to recycle (coat-hangers, plastic crates) and recovery (wood, cardboard, etc.), combating food waste and ending the distribution of single-use carrier bags, etc. Other Provencal municipalities have since followed the guidelines.
Here’s how you can help
Be a chic bag lady
Don’t use plastic bags. Simple, isn’t it? When we travel, all of us take strong, good-sized bags with us, in addition to luggage. Rucksacks, backpacks, decent-sized handbags with strong handles etc. Please use those! Or buy a cloth bag or a cute Provencal basket and look like a trendy local. The grim reality is: Every piece of plastic produced on our fragile planet since 1950 still exists.
Scientists say a new type of rock cobbled together from plastic, volcanic rock, beach sand, seashells, and corals has begun forming on the shores of Hawaii. The mass of plastic produced since 1950 is close to 6 billion metric tonnes, enough to bundle the entire planet in plastic wrap. Combine plastic’s abundance with its persistence in the environment, and there’s a good chance it’ll get into the fossil record.” – Sciencemag.org
I love the way these calisson (pictured below) at the Provencal market in Aix-en-Provence are packaged. OK, so there’s a little plastic, but not much. The clever stallholder has used lightweight cardboard to package the almond cookies. They’re made from a paste of ground almonds, candied melon and orange peel on a thin layer of wafer, all covered with royal icing. These cookies are a local specialty. The diamond-shaped cookies in the foreground are wrapped in cellophane, a thin, transparent sheet made of regenerated cellulose. As for the lavender-coloured twine – fingers crossed it’s cotton based and not plastic, polyester or nylon.
Eat ugly vege
Food that doesn’t have a perfect appearance is often ditched before reaching retailers big and small, creating a massive amount of waste in the Western world. Fortunately Provencal markets (as the picture above shows) don’t discriminate so much. Peppers and tomatoes at the Saturday market in Arles are delightfully imperfect. There’s also an emphasis on organic produce in Provence markets.
Nicolas Chabanne, a Paris entrepreneur with ties to French fruit and vegetable farmers, runs a campaign called Gueules Cassées, which translates into Ugly Mugs, reports the New York Times. Its logo is a smiling apple with a black eye and a single tooth, which Chabanne prints on labels that French farmers and retailers can fix to their imperfect produce and sell at reduced prices. He sells the labels for a few euro cents each, keeping part of the proceeds while donating the rest to consumer groups or activists fighting food waste. An estimated 800 farmers and food producers are participating in Ugly Mugs so far.
By the way, the new French law says:
- Supermarkets sized 400 sq m or over must donate food that is approaching its best-before date to charity or be turned into animal feed or compost, rather than biffing it out
- They will no longer be allowed to render foodstuffs inedible by pouring water or bleach on them – previously a common practice – and using many thousands of litres of water
- Supermarkets will have to sign contracts with charities or face penalties, including fines of up to €75,000 or two years in jail
- They bring to an end a system whereby food producers were legally obliged to destroy entire batches of products that carried a supermarket brand name.