For those of you who, like me, have slight imperfections (you know who you are), here is an interesting article from NPR that raises the possibility that ugly fruits and vegetables actually may be more nutritious than the “super-model” produce that edges them out on most supermarket produce counters. Their consumption also may reduce the obscene amount of food waste in the U.S. and abroad–2.9 trillion pounds a year according to National Geographic Magazine. That is enough food to feed the world’s 800,000,000 hungry two times over.
According to United States Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsach, the U.S. wastes enough food in a year to fill 40 skyscrapers. Put another way, that translates to a loss of 40% of the food grown in the U.S. in a given year, not to mention the labor, water and other resources that have gone into the cultivation of that food. Pretty shameful.
There is a growing movement afoot in the U.S. to cut food waste. Grocers Giant Eagle and Whole Foods Markets, for example, have teamed with Oakland-based Imperfect Produce to test-market the sale of blemished and misshapen produce at reduced prices and there is pressure on other markets to do the same. There is, of course, some irony in Whole Foods’ embrace of ugly produce and lower prices given that company’s reputation for high prices–“whole paycheck market,” as some of my friends call it. It’s a good deed on their part, nevertheless.
The growing popularity of farmers markets increasingly moves imperfect produce onto American dinner tables as well as do food banks. My local Second Harvest Orange County food bank branch feeds 200,000 hungry people each month.
Europe is ahead of us in this area with E.U. countries like France and England leading the way in promoting the virtues of ugly fruits and vegetables. They are doing a bit of clever marketing, too. The French have a program to promote “inglorious fruits and vegetables.” Here is a link to France’s Intermarche market’s famous promotion video for “unfortunate clementines” and other inglorious produce. It is well-done, makes you think, and worth your time to watch. It is also clever. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQQMygivn0g
Speaking about food waste and an American food industry whose standards emphasize cosmetic considerations like size, diameter, and consistency over taste and ripeness, California organic grower David Matsumoto gets it right: ” If we picked our friends the way we selectively picked and culled our produce, we’d be very lonely.”
We would also miss out on some very healthy friendships.
Here is the link to the NPR article about nutrition and ugly produce: