The European Food Information Council (EUFIC) has launched the first-ever European-wide interactive map detailing seasonal fruit and vegetable consumption.
“The launch of this tool comes at a time of momentum on societal concern, a sense of urgency, and political discussions about climate change and the role of our diets,” Laura Fernández Celemín, director general at EUFIC, tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
The tool combines data from established national sources and features over 200 seasonal fruits and vegetables, covers 24 countries, and includes the six European climate regions. Initially launched in English, it will be available also in French, German, Italian and Spanish.
“The map also fits into the efforts at global level of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), which proclaimed 2021 the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables to raise awareness on the importance of eating more of these dietary essentials,” explains Fernández Celemín.
Spotlight on supply
Research from the EU-funded project Smartchain shows that in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers raised their awareness of short supply chains, improved their perception and increased their intention to purchase from such chains.
According to Fernández Celemín, consumers see short food supply chains as a good way to better prepare a country for a crisis such as COVID-19.
“We have observed an increase in consumer trust in the food system, particularly in 2020 for farmers, followed by retailers,” she adds.
“The key aim of the interactive tool is to encourage people to eat more local and seasonal fresh produce. We also intend to contribute to people’s awareness about how their food choice impacts the environment, so that they become more mindful about these choices and can improve their diets and lifestyles altogether,” says Fernández Celemín.
Users can filter per country, season and month, identifying sustainable food options. Thanks to its simple interface and the inclusion of many foods, the EUFIC map aims to raise awareness of the nutrition and health benefits of fruits and vegetable consumption while reducing food waste.
“In Europe, we are used to having an extensive selection of foods at our disposal all along the year, often detaching us from the origins of the produce. This map promotes local and seasonal fruits and vegetable consumption, helping people have a diversified, balanced, healthy and sustainable diet,” Fernández Celemín comments.
Consumers seek sustainable options
A recent survey conducted by the European Consumers Organization (BEUC) found that two-thirds of consumers are open to changing their eating habits for environmental reasons. Many are willing to waste less food at home, buy more seasonal fruit and vegetables and eat more plant-based foods.
Yet, two main obstacles people face are the lack of information and the difficulty of identifying sustainable food options.
EUFIC’s tool helps consumers fill these information gaps, providing them a gateway to find reliable information on seasonal and local eating, which may serve both as a guide to vary fruit and vegetables across the year and let people try new recipes with sustainable alternatives.
“Waste is a major issue in our food chains, as confirmed by the latest report from the United Nations Environment Program, stressing that out of the 931 million metric tons of food waste generated in 2019, more than 60 percent happens at home,” Fernández Celemín continues.
“This also represents an enormous waste of the valuable resources used in food production, such as water, energy, work and money.”
Unfortunately, the high perishability of fruits and vegetables makes them one of the most wasted food groups, with almost half of all the fruits and vegetables produced being lost or wasted across the supply chain, according to the FAO.
Earlier this month, UN research revealed that an estimated 931 million metric tons of food, or 17 percent of total food available to consumers in 2019, went into the waste bins of households, retailers, restaurants and other food services.
Boosting health and environment
According to EUFIC, eating seasonal and local fruit and vegetables benefits both health and the environment.
Local food is fresher and more nutritious, especially considering that most of the vitamins and minerals in fruits and vegetables are generally lost within 24 hours after being picked.
Moreover, many studies revealed that locally-sourced produce drastically reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions linked to the supply chain.
Fruit and vegetables with the lowest GHG emissions are those grown outside during their natural season without much use of additional energy and consumed in the same country of origin.
However, choosing locally produced and in-season fruit and vegetables is just one aspect of eating more sustainably, says EUFIC.
Increasing plant-based foods such as fruit and vegetables in the diet and reducing animal-based foods such as beef and dairy, and minimizing food waste is equally important, the organization outlines.
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