THE UGLY FRUIT INITIATIVE
WORDS & IMAGE: KATE WEINER
I've spent the last three summers working in urban agriculture. Much as I love this line of work, I'm getting frustrated at how much good food gets wasted because it isn't considered aesthetically pleasing. I've been asked by supervisors to compost more than three pounds of radishes because the root veggies had a slight rash; I've watched as buyers turn down a good tomato because it's a little funny looking.
This emphasis on high aesthetic standards serves me: whenever I've worked on farms, I haven't had to buy vegetables because I get to take home the "leftovers" as it were, all the delicious and nutritious lettuce leaves and succulent squashes and lemony cucumbers that are deemed unfit to sell. But I'd like to see this good food circulating in my community. The U.S. throws out 50% of what we grow. With so many people going hungry in our country, that's not something we can tolerate.
Recently, I binge watched a slate of dumpster diving documentaries. Just Eat It and Dive really drove home the point for me that the food waste I see on small farms is happening everywhere: in industrialized agricultural centers, in our neighborhood restaurants, in our kitchens. Part of the problem is aesthetic standards and part of the problem is excess consumption: we overbuy and end up tossing withered broccoli weeks later. We throw away a couple carrot sticks that have a few bumps. Unbeautiful fruits and veggies aren't bad for you or inedible or evidence of a misstep somewhere along the trail from seed to plate.
The Ugly Fruit Initiative is our way of trying to tackle this thorny issue by focusing on ways that we can reduce food waste through changing our notions of what is edible. There's definitely a difference between damaged fruit and ugly fruit: we're not asking you to eat moldy peaches. We're asking you to test out some strategies for reducing food waste in your home. In the summer of 2014, France launched an Ugly Fruit campaign to encourage customers to purchase funky fruit at lower prices. We're similarly aligning ourselves with the Ugly Fruit and Veg campaign to reduce food waste.
Here's some things that you can do to reduce food waste and embrace ugly fruits:
(1) Sign this petition to get supermarkets to sell ugly produce.
(2) Talk to your local grocery about participating in food rescue initiatives.
(3) When possible, shop small at farmers' markets, and don't be afraid to go for the carrots with character or the plums with a little dimpling. It's all good.
We'll continue to share tips about food waste, food rescue, and learning to love plant imperfections. In the meanwhile, share us snapshots from your adventures in ugly fruit and veggies on Instagram #uglyfruitinitiative. We can't wait to see what you've got!