Fruit and vegetable retailers have long held their products to a superficial standard and while it has added attractiveness to grocery store aisles, it creates an ugly truth about the produce wasted in the process. A majority of crops harvested are discarded based on their minor imperfections. Approximately 40% of fruits and vegetables grown don’t make the cut for supermarkets on the basis of looking ugly (according to http://www.endfoodwaste.org), while providing the same flavors and nutritional benefits as more visually appealing crops.
Jordan Figueiredo, an anti-food waste specialist from Castro Valley, California, created a unique and humorous social media campaign called Ugly Fruit and Veg for a more lighthearted take on this issue. After working with the local community on recycling and composting through his career, Figueiredo got tired of seeing food going to waste that could have been feeding people. He started the Zero Waste Forum in Berkeley of 2014 as a way to bring together non-profits, businesses, government officials and garbage haulers to work towards higher solutions for a zero food waste future. Figueiredo’s focus on food waste then led to an interest in ugly produce: “I found ugly and almost beautiful photos of produce. They come in some amazing forms, so I thought I would start posting. And then it turned into writing.”
This cultivated the birth of the @UglyFruitAndVeg campaign which was first featured on Twitter in December 2014 and then on Instagram in February 2015. These online platforms allow you to catch a glimpse of the unique shapes and styles that fruits and veggies can come in, which stem purely from the imperfections of nature. With the campaign gaining more focus online, Figueiredo was able to reach out to a larger variety of audiences to share his message. He expressed that, “not enough people are talking about food waste, and I want to connect to people who like food, who would not normally be aware about food waste.”
The growth of this campaign has led to progress in supermarkets as well. Figueiredo shared that, his organization has done two petitions, one to Whole Foods in October of last year– where the company promised to implement ugly produce into their markets as of March 2016– and one to Wal-Mart, which is still in the works (and needs your signatures–see below for link). As opposite as both grocery chains may seem, he says, “we wanted to show that everybody should sell it. WalMart calls themselves the low price leader, so this makes sense since ugly produce costs a lot less. Growers sell it for at least 50% off.” He hopes that within the next several years we can start to see grocers selling ugly produce nationwide.
But what is so important about eating ugly fruits and vegetables? To Figueiredo, the top reason is, “this ugly produce issue is a problem everywhere and we’re throwing away so much food that we really don’t need to grow more food, we need to stop throwing it away. We have so many food insecure people.” Issues such as food insecurity (when people do not have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain an active and healthy lifestyle) and the wasting of resources are just beginning of the long list of problems that could be solved by the ending of food waste. According to Figueiredo’s website, “approximately 10% of human made greenhouse gas emissions come from producing, transporting, storing and preparing food that is never eaten,” which means this problem has environmental implications as well. To give some perspective, if trees were planted on the land where wasted food is grown, 50-100% of these greenhouse gas emissions could be offset. By the year 2050, an estimated world population of 9 billion people means growers need to be producing 70% more food, which proves how crucial it is to preserve and appreciate all that stems from the soil. Who knew that by eating funny looking produce, you could be aiding in stopping climate change and world hunger, now and in the future?
So if you’re feeling inspired and want to help in the fight, Figueiredo encourages four key tips: work with farm to food bank programs, sign the petitions at http://www.endfoodwaste.org (currently they need signatures for their “What The Fork” petition to WalMart), encourage schools to look into this program, and just simply talk about it. To hear more about the @UglyFruitandVegetable campaign, check out http://www.endfoodwaste.org/ugly-fruit—veg.html as well as their Instagram and Twitter.