As Miuccia Prada said in 2013, “Ugly is attractive. Ugly is exciting.” While she was speaking of the fashion world, in the last couple of years, the food industry has been slowly adopting the same motto, asking questions about waste and why oddball produce is so often discarded. Today, ugly is now trending in the grocery aisles.
First thing’s first. Shying away from a “deformed” fruit or vegetable is pure aesthetic snobbery. There’s nothing wrong with a tomato that isn’t perfectly rounded or a peach with an extra dimple or two; they still carry all of the same benefits and flavors as the versions we’re used to seeing on grocery store shelves. Farmers throw away these anomalous items, as many grocery chains won’t buy them for fear that they are unsellable. However, as we now collectively toss out enough food each year to fill more than 40 skyscrapers, according to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, a growing group of grocery chains, entrepreneurs, and farmers are fighting to make these discarded fruits and vegetables part of consumers’ buying habits.
One such business is Imperfect Produce, a Bay Area–based start-up that delivers fresh ugly produce (bought directly from local farmers) to the region. Through this service, you can get up to 20 pounds of fruit and veggies for around $20, and a smaller box for around $12 a week. These prices reflect about a 30 percent discount compared to what’s currently ticketed in store. Earlier this month, the company had a major breakthrough when Whole Foods accepted their partnership and agreed to sell the misshapen produce beginning in April. For now, the program is only being implemented in a selection of stores throughout Northern California, but they are hoping to eventually get the produce into Whole Foods outposts across the country.
While this movement might be a new trend here in the U.S., it’s already gained serious momentum in Europe. In 2014, the E.U. announced the Year Against Food Waste, with French grocery chain Intermarché launching a very successful campaign called “inglorious fruits and vegetables” and England’s Waitrose selling “weather blemished” apples. In Portugal, a similar company to Imperfect Produce called Fruta Feia has also taken off.
Though we may be behind, signs are certainly showing an admirable catch-up to our friends across the pond. And why not? Buying these unfortunate-looking foods should be appealing to consumers not only because of the affordability, but also because of the support it gives to farmers and the direct impact it has on decreasing food waste. And that waste has an impact beyond simply not getting nutritious food into the hands of those who need it most: According to Think Progress, 40 percent of the food grown in the States ends up being tossed into the garbage, where it decomposes and releases methane, a greenhouse gas that, when released into the atmosphere, is about 86 times as powerful as carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. Forget about the dent in your turnip—waste is, in fact, the most ugly thing of all.
The post A Double-Headed Carrot or a Dimpled Peach: Why You Should Buy “Ugly” Fruits and Vegetables appeared first on Vogue.