Yesterday, I was pleased to hear that the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency joined forces to announce the U.S.’s first official national goal to decrease food waste: Their aim is to cut food waste in half by the year 2030. To do so, they will partner with charitable organizations, faith-based organizations, the private sector, and local, state, and tribal governments.
Problems with Food Waste
Food waste is a growing global problem on multiple fronts:
- Feeding a burgeoning global population becomes harder each decade.
- More Americans than ever don’t know where their next meal is coming from, rendering them “food insecure.”
- Fresh water is squandered to grow food that is not eaten.
- Fuel is consumed harvesting and transporting wasted food.
- Landfill space is taken up by organic matter that should be eaten, biodegraded into fertilizer, or converted to biofuel.
One reason why food is wasted is because of its appearance: Any produce that is blemished, unusually sized, or misshapen is typically discarded by farmers or rejected by grocers. While these fruits and vegetables taste pleasant and contain the same nutrients as their “normal” counterparts, the Western world has become spoiled by an abundant food supply filled with only the most attractive produce.
This cultural bias spreads so far back in the global supply chain that many farmers send their “ugliest” edible produce to landfills without even showing it to grocers or consumers. In the face of such a deeply-ingrained, wasteful habit, how can the U.S. hope to reduce food waste by 50% in just 15 years?
Selling “Ugly Fruits”
Enter the “ugly fruits” movement. Since last year, some European supermarkets have tried to address food waste from a grocer/consumer perspective, selling produce with visual imperfections at reduced rates. French retailer Intermarché, France’s third-largest supermarket chain, created my favorite solution, a viral “inglorious fruits and vegetables” campaign, which turned shoppers’ attention toward fruits that look bizarre but taste just fine.
At first, they specially labeled their visual rejects with amusingly self-aware titles such as “the grotesque apple,” “the failed lemon,” and “ugly carrot.” While these labels included 30% discounts, consumers didn’t trust them at first. So Intermarché decided to prove the tastiness of their “inglorious” produce: They prepared food products from them, such as juices and soups, specially packaged to advertise their exclusively “inglorious” origins. Displaying these prepared foods prominently and offering samples enticed customers to give them a try—at which point Intermarché shoppers realized that they shouldn’t judge produce by its shape alone.
Promotions like Intermarché’s continue to spread across Europe and even to other continents. Last fall the idea reached North America, when Canada’s Red Hat Cooperative teamed up with Safeway to sell “misfit” produce for a 30% discount in select stores.
“Ugly” Produce in the U.S.
Unlike Intermarché, Safeway did not specifically advertise their “misfit” produce with specially-prepared and labeled juices or soups made from them. But misshapen produce can be used in prepared foods by grocers and restaurants everywhere! Even when grocers or vendors are uninterested in advertising such products to their customers, many of them still take advantage of tasty “misfit” produce at reduced prices from their suppliers. Adding these “misfits” to the consumer-facing produce aisle is the logical next step in reducing waste and saving money for producers, vendors, and consumers.
Farmers’ markets and small grocers are currently leading the way in “misfit” produce sales in the U.S. But activist Jordan Figueiredo is working hard to open the minds of major retailers to the possibilities of “ugly” foods. Thus far, his organization End Food Waste has successfully advised supermarket chain Raley’s in the development of a “Real Good” imperfect produce section at their Northern California stores. To aid Figueiredo’s campaign, you can sign his imperfect produce petition to Walmart and Whole Foods, and visit his website to find additional ways to contribute.
It may take time for large American supermarkets to join the “Ugly Fruits” movement. In the meantime, we can each do our part by taking a second look at the less “perfect” produce from our local grocer or farmer’s market. Interested in reducing food waste once you bring your groceries home? Check out End Food Waste’s great resource page.
What’s the “ugliest” fruit or vegetable you’ve seen lately? This one wins my vote; I’d say he’s happy about it!