The Beauty of Ugly Food

Have you ever eaten a two-legged carrot? How about a potato shaped like a heart? Or even a strawberry shaped like a miniature bear?

Potato_heart_mutation.jpgOblong or heart-shaped, it's still a potato - does it really matter if you mash it?

Maybe you’re wondering why you rarely come across these kinds of “ugly” produce at the grocery store.The sad truth is, often it gets wasted --- contributing to the 20 to 40 percent of all fruits and vegetables that get thrown away.

If wasted food was considered a country, it would be the third biggest contributor to climate change. Wasted food creates methane, a detrimental greenhouse gas with 21 times the global warming potential as carbon dioxide.

So why are we throwing good food out? There’s nothing inherently wrong with “ugly” produce, which maintains all of its nutritional value and taste. It just looks different.

With more than 40 million Americans who are hungry, distributing the ugly food or selling it for a cheaper price could help fill the hunger gap.

Selling “ugly” could be a win-win for the planet, consumers and farmers.

Consumers would like saving the extra cash when buying “ugly” produce, and farmers could enjoy extra income from products that otherwise would have gone to the landfill.

Some leaders in the Food Waste industry in Europe have stepped up, trying to find a way to salvage these perfectly good fruits and vegetables.

One organization, Feedback, has worked to call attention to this issue and its solutions. It has hosted numerous “Feeding the Five Thousand” events, which feed a meal to five thousand people with food that would have been wasted.

The event shows consumers that there is nothing that scary about “ugly” fruits and vegetables, and celebrates the abnormalities as something that is, in fact, very normal in nature.

It's not just big organizations that are using "ugly" food to feed people. One popular European grocery store chain, Intermarche, sells unconventionally shaped produce at a 30-percent discount to their “beautiful” equals.

The store even launched a television and print ad campaign featuring the unconventional fruits and vegetables with captions like “the ugly carrot” and “the grotesque apple.”

Four advertisements from the Intermarche Inglorious campaign which discounts unusual-looking produce 30 percent.

There are still some limitations with getting the “ugly” food in stores, but the marketing strategy and reduced cost has been a hit with consumers. Several stores in Europe started selling the food as well; even Canadian Safeways are experimenting with “misfit” fruits and vegetables.

So why have American grocery stores resisted selling “ugly” food?

Jordan Figueiredo thinks that the best way to go green with food waste is to not create it at all.

In an interview with Planet Forward, Feedback's Jordan Figueiredo said that there was no institutional reason we don’t sell or buy ugly food but rather more of a cultural one.

“There’s actually very few produce items that are regulated for what they look like -- so they could sell them,” said Figueiredo. “We expect our fruit to look perfect, beautiful and with amazing color, but I think that’s changing.”

One of the best ways to encourage the change in grocery stores is by pressuring stores to carry “ugly” produce and spread the word by engaging people in the idea.

If you want to see more captivating pictures of ugly fruits and veggies, follow @uglyfruitandveg on Twitter.

Diana Wilkinson is a junior majoring in Journalism and Mass Communication at The George Washington University.

Top image courtesy Daniel Barrera and Taybow

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