Over the years, farmers have struggled to make our fruits and vegetables bigger, tastier, and — more than either of those things — prettier. Given the choice between a shiny, round apple and one with a bit of a dent in it, we take the shiny one. Our taste runs towards expensive-looking produce, even before actual taste enters into it.
Unfortunately, our demand for perfection has led to massive amounts of food waste: One report by the UN Environment Programme estimates that 20 to 40 percent of produce ends up being thrown out because of imperfections. The worst part? When you realize that these imperfections have nothing to do with taste or nutrition. Ugly fruits are pretty on the inside.
Sensing the need for change, campaigns like California’s Imperfect Foods and “Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables” by French supermarket chain Intermarché are attempting to change attitudes toward ugly fruit and vegetables. In one ad, Intermarché states: “A hideous orange makes beautiful juice.” They make a very good point — and businesses are noticing.
A growing number of supermarkets, restaurants, and other food-related businesses are jumping on the ugly food bandwagon, not only helping to decrease food waste but also providing their customers with a bit of a discount. Though bigger (and supposedly sustainability-friendly) businesses like Whole Foods and Trader Joes are conspicuously missing from the list, it’s clear that the rise of ugly food is off to a good start.
Former Trader Joe’s President Doug Rauch is behind Daily Table, the Dorchester, Massachusetts not-for-profit retail store that relies on donations from farmers, other supermarkets, and manufacturers who donate their excess — which often means imperfect — food, giving low-to-middle income families in the neighborhood access to healthy and nutritious groceries.
On their Facebook page, Raley’s, a large grocery store chain in the American West, makes the following statement: “We believe that a slightly misshaped pear deserves a fair chance.” Starting next month, Raley’s will be stocking its shelves with blemished fruit and vegetables to bring down rates of food waste as well as support local farmers, who lose a huge chunk of potential income to the demand for perfect food.
Clear Creek Distillery
This Portland-based distillery, which produces 10,000 cases of artisanal spirits annually, makes their product with fruit that’s too small or too blemished to be sold. They partnered up with a local packing house to obtain the imperfect fruit at a discount, using up to 30 pounds of fruit per bottle. Their eaux de vie, grappa, liqueurs, and whiskies are all made with locally sourced fruits which — because they’re more ripe than those picked off for the supermarket — are sweeter, making for a superior tipple.
At the helm of this Montreal restaurant is chef Derek Dammann, who fully embraces ugly food. “I tell my farmers to keep all of their perfect things and take those to market where they can make their money,” he told the Globe and Mail last year.
If you live in California, this startup will put together a 10- to 15-pound box of “cosmetically challenged” produce for you every week. They buy unsalable, blemished produce from local farmers at a discounted price, passing on the savings to their customers. On their Indiegogo website, they proudly state that “in light of the on-going drought in California, we’re also proud that every pound of produce we sell prevents the 25-50 gallons of water it takes to grow a pound of produce from being wasted.”
Canada’s biggest grocery chain Loblaws Inc. launched their “naturally imperfect” campaign in select groceries, offering slightly damaged potatoes and apples at a discount of up to 30%. “We often focus too much on the look of produce rather than the taste,” said Loblaws senior vice president Ian Gordon in a press statement. “Once you peel or cut an apple you can’t tell it once had a blemish or was misshapen.”