How many people would pass up this lemon in the supermarket? I would. As Americans we are conditioned to appreciate and value physical perfection. This not only affects our choice in selecting a partner, but also our choices when selecting produce. You may be thinking “so what?” The reason it is important to consider our bias, is that it contributes the problem of food waste we experience in this country. It is especially unfortunate because there are many individuals and families that are experiencing food insecurity; but yet, we throw away estimated 70 billion pounds of food each year according to feedingamerica.org.
Much of this is produce that is discarded because it does meet appearance standards for the American consumer. As a result, retailers will not accept imperfect looking produce and growers end up letting it rot in the field or sending it to a landfill. Considering this produce may not be attractive, but is still nutritionally valuable, it is unfortunate that it is cheaper for growers to discard of so-called “ugly produce”, rather than package and distribute it to food shelves and homeless shelters.
To fight this type of wastefulness in Europe, the French supermarket retailer Intermarche came up with an “inglorious fruits and vegetables” campaign. http://itm.marcelww.com/inglorious/
Intermarche created a special isle in their stores to sell imperfect produce at 30% off retail price. To convince consumers that the produce is just as good as their perfect looking counterparts, they created a line of products made with imperfect fruits and vegetables. They gave the produce personality and names such as “the grotesque apple,” “the failed lemon,” “the disfigured eggplant,” “the ugly carrot” and the “unfortunate clementine.” The campaign ended up being a success and a benefit to farmers, consumers and the environment.
Imperfect Is OK
Currently in the US there does not seem to be much interest in embracing imperfection in our produce even though it would prevent waste, lower costs, save on natural resources and reduce methane emissions. While there are some retailers, such as Whole Foods, piloting programs in select stores – there doesn’t seem to be an initiative to push the idea to the American consumer. Hy-Vee is the only retailer, with its “Misfits” brand, that has an ongoing program to carry ugly produce at all of its outlets.
We need more start-ups like the one in California, called Imperfect, which packs and delivers produce which doesn’t meet “cosmetic standards” to consumers at a steep discount. The New York Times published a video on the company – titled “Edible, But Ugly”. https://www.nytimes.com/video/us/100000004050695/edible-but-ugly.html
Hopefully as consumers we can get past our bias toward perfection and appreciate that imperfection is acceptable – sometimes even beautiful.