Perfectly Good Imperfect Food

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A customer shopped at Fruta Feia, a Portuguese cooperative created to sell imperfect food. The food industry has begun looking for ways to reduce waste. Bargain-hunting consumers seem to be going for the deals.CreditPatricia De Melo Moreira for The New York Times

Increasing attention to the inherent waste in judgements about imperfection is a welcome topic in our pages:

Food Industry Goes Beyond Looks to Fight Waste

So now, in such cities as Pittsburgh and Paris, some of that imperfect produce has started to find its way into stores. And bargain-hunting consumers, who get a hefty discount for their willingness to munch on too-small apples and blemished oranges, seem to be buying it.

With the water, fertilizer, energy and other resources used to grow crops that never make it to the table, food waste carries an environmental price. In the United States, 40 percent of food, $162 billion worth every year, is never eaten, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group, and ReFED, an anti-waste coalition. Producing, processing and transporting uneaten food accounts for a quarter of America’s water use and 4 percent of its oil consumption, the council says.

Along with targeting waste, being able to sell food that once would have been tossed aside gives growers a new stream of income and offers consumers a way to save money without compromising on taste or nutrition.

“There’s nothing more disheartening for a farmer than to grow something and then throw it away,” said Guy Poskitt, a carrot and parsnip farmer in Yorkshire. “Consumers hate waste, and as growers we’ve really got huge challenges in terms of profitability,” he said. Selling imperfect produce helps solve both problems, he said.

Often, the cosmetically challenged fruits and veggies are hardly distinguishable from ordinary ones — an orange with a bumpy scar on it, or a potato that is slightly smaller than its peers.

Dana Gunders, a food and agriculture expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council in San Francisco, recalled talking to a stone-fruit grower who every week produces 200,000 pounds, about 90,000 kilograms, of peaches and plums that cannot be sold. “He said, ‘Of those, you wouldn’t be able to tell me what’s wrong with eight out of 10 of them.’ ”

Abundance allows retailers in wealthy countries to be particular about aesthetics, and consumers have grown used to choosing from uniform rows of shiny red apples and perfect pears.

The industrial scale on which agriculture operates in many rich nations, and the long distances food often travels from farm to table, result in a great deal of waste. Retailers grade produce according to strict criteria to which farmers, fearful of shipping anything that might be rejected, must pay close attention.

“Sometimes it’s things like the cucumber is curved and so it doesn’t fit in the box as well as a straight cucumber,” said Ms. Gunders, author of the “Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook.”

Heather Garlich, spokeswoman for the Food Marketing Institute, a supermarket and wholesalers’ trade group in Arlington, Va., said sellers had an interest in making sure standards reflected consumer demand and that research showed shoppers choose produce based mainly on appearance…

Read the whole article here.

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