Fruits and vegetables take centre stage

    25 May 2021

    The United Nations declared 2021 as the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables to raise awareness of the nutritional and health benefits of fruits and vegetables as part of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle.

    The World Health Organization recommends consuming at least 400 grams of fruit and vegetables each day. Fruit and vegetable consumption has been linked to benefits including improved growth and development in children; longer life span; better mental wellbeing; a healthy heart; lower risk of developing some cancers; lower obesity risk; lower diabetes risk; better gut health; and improved immunity.

    Globally we consume only about two-thirds of the daily recommended intake of fruit and vegetables. These numbers vary around the world due to a lack of availability, challenges in production, transport and trade, and high prices. These factors can make fruits and vegetables inaccessible to many, especially in developing countries.

    In Australia, fruit and vegetable consumption rates are alarmingly low despite having access to a bountiful supply.

    Half of Australian adults and two-thirds of children have an adequate daily intake of fruit and just seven per cent of Australian adults and five per cent of children are meeting the recommended guidelines for daily vegetable intake. The International Year of Fruits and Vegetables provides an opportunity for Australians to increase their consumption and reap the health benefits.

    A Deloitte Access Economics report released in 2018 estimates that up to $20.6 billion of Australian agricultural output (or 73 per cent of the total value of Australian crop production) can be directly attributed to the use of chemical crop protection products. Without pesticides the world would lose up to 50 per cent of crucial food crops, devastating global food supply.

    While the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables has a focus on fresh produce, it recognises processed forms of fruit and vegetables as important sources of income for farmers, a key part of diets for people unable to easily access fresh produce and a means to reduce food waste, another focus of the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables.

    Food waste contributes around eight per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and can cause as much damage to our planet as plastic waste. Food is wasted for cosmetic reasons like size, shape or colour, by consumers who misunderstand “best before” labels and general overbuying. The waste reduction efforts of the United Nations and governments around the world have a strong ally in the plant science industry.

    As consumer demands for the “perfect” fruit and vegetables lead to half of all produce being thrown away, gene-edited products like Arctic Apples are being introduced. Developed using CSIRO technology by a Canadian company and now available to purchase in the US, these apples essentially eliminate browning and are therefore less likely to be thrown away, cutting food waste.

    Restaurants and hotels across the globe have taken notice of the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables with popular establishments like Canberra restaurant Monster Kitchen and Bar going vegetarian for the year.

    As part of a commitment to environmental sustainability the restaurant has said it will incorporate techniques from previous experiences to “showcase vegetables through a refined menu offering”, with fermenting and pickling to be prominent across the menu, as well as produce from the inhouse kitchen garden.