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TIP OF THE DAY: Consider Ugly Produce

America wastes enough food each year to feed a hungry country: 63 million tons of it, from the field to processing plant to stores to homes.

Every year, American consumers, businesses and farms spends $218 billion a year on food that is thrown away. It’s food that is unharvested or unsold.

  • That’s 1.3% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) wasted for growing, processing, transporting and disposing of food that is never eaten.
  • That’s 52 million tons of food—40% of the harvest—that’s sent to landfill annually.
  • Another 10 million tons that is thrown away after harvesting, or left unharvested on farms.
  • Meanwhile, one in seven Americans is food insecure.
    Throwing away food like this it’s a waste of money and environmentally unfriendly.

    More depressing data:

  • 40% of the food grown in the U.S. goes uneaten.
  • Growing wasted food takes 21% of fresh water supply.
  • It occupies 18% of all cropland and 19% of all fertilizer.
  • Wasted food occupies 21% of all landfill volume.
  • A large percentage of greenhouse gases are emitted in producing, processing, and transporting food, along with the methane emissions from food disposed of in landfills.
    (Source: ReFED)

    Nonprofit and foundations have developed solutions to limit the waste. How long they will take to filter down through the supply change is another issue, since there is no federal mandate to do so.

    One small thing we can do, as consumers, is to buy ugly produce wherever you find it.

    That’s not likely to be in grocery stores, but sometimes in farmers markets and delivery services.

    Three delivery services that sell slightly ugly (not grossly misshapen) organic produce are:

  • Hungry Harvest
  • Imperfect Foods
  • Misfits Market
    They operate like a CSA, sending you a box of assorted fruits and vegetables each month, based on seasonality.

    The produce they select is only slightly imperfect, per the criteria below. You may not even notice that there’s something a bit off; but grocery store produce managers do.

    For sure, after you slice and dice, no one will notice; and they taste just as delicious (maybe even better!).

    Ugly produce is that which goes into the landfill. It tastes just like other produce, but is misshapen, too small, or otherwise unappealing to grocers and consumers.

    Grocery stores have a very high standard of aesthetic look for their produce.

    It’s a sad fact that in the U.S., many fruits and vegetables are chosen for their beauty rather than their taste. But that’s what consumers want to buy.

    Why throw away perfectly good produce just because it doesn’t meet arbitrary aesthetic criteria?

    One in five fruits and vegetables go to waste for the most superficial reasons:

  • It’s significantly larger or smaller than the “normal” size.
  • The outside color is a bit “off” or it doesn’t look quite “right.”
  • It’s a bit lumpy.
  • It has cosmetic blemishes.
    Perhaps it’s better to call them “imperfect produce.”

    Discarded produce can also include some non-beauty issues like:

  • The crop is too small: There’s not enough to sell to supermarkets.
  • The crop too big: There’s a surplus.
    The ugly produce delivery services rescue this produce and deliver it to your door.

    Every delivery helps to save at least 10 pounds of food from going to waste, along with all the resources (water, oil, GHGs) used to grow it (source).

    Try a box of ugly produce for yourself; send a subscription as a gift for your favorite cook.

    “Imperfect” produce is also cheaper. Check out:

  • Hungry Harvest
  • Imperfect Foods
  • Misfits Market

    [1] A “blip” makes the tomato ugly, but just as delicious as a blipless one (photo © Imperfect Foods).

    [2] A box of slightly imperfect produce from Hungry Harvest.

    [3] The “real” ugly produce. Funny looks don’t impact the flavor (photo © UC Davis)

    [4] This onion has three cores instead of one (photo © Imperfect Foods).

    [5] Sometimes the flesh of a fruit or vegetable is “splotchy” (photo © Imperfect Foods).

    We wish you could order a box for Earth Day, but because of COVID-19, new customers aren’t being enrolled right now.

    Just put your name on the waiting list and you’ll be contacted as soon as the quarantine is over.


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