What Is Ugly Produce and Should You Seek It Out?
Here's how eating imperfect fruits and vegetables can help reduce food waste.
Supermarket produce aisles lie to us. They'd have us believe that every apple, pear, and bunch of leafy greens are always picture perfect. But remember the last time you went apple picking? Every apple wasn't shiny, round and perfect, was it? Chances are you ate one or two or more anyway and they tasted fresh, a little tart, and simply amazing. Today, those orchard apples would be called ugly fruits and along with ugly vegetables they're popping up at supermarkets, in subscription services, and on restaurant menus and mostly that's a good thing.
Just What Are Ugly Fruits and Vegetables?
Called ugly, imperfect, or misfits, ugly produce when sold commercially tends to fall into three categories. Some are exactly what you'd think of as ugly: misshapen, off-sized fruits and vegetables, think avocados that are too small and eggplants that are too big, they may also have a bit of bruising or damage. Think twisted carrots, root vegetables in funky shapes, and leafy greens with pest damage.
Others simply don't meet the standards supermarkets set for purchasing. "For instance there could be discoloration on an apple, maybe it has a tinge of orange or yellow and it's supposed to be perfectly red," says Abhi Ramesh CEO and founder of Misfits Market, an online subscription service for ugly fruits and vegetables. Finally, there are fruits and vegetables that don't have anything wrong with them but farmers can't sell them because there is a surplus of that particular produce item.
Why Would I Want to Eat Ugly Fruits and Vegetables?
These ugly produce items are just as nutritious as their aesthetically-pleasing counterparts and they have the exact same flavor. They're often cheaper, by up to 40 percent, as their perfect counterparts. Plus, purchasing them supports farmers and may also help to reduce food waste. "By purchasing imperfect fruits, vegetables, and pantry items, consumers make a huge impact on farms and producers of all sizes by helping to make sure the majority of what is produced is sold," says Ben Chesler, co-founder of Imperfect Foods, an online subscription service imperfect fruits and vegetables as well as grocery items. "Purchasing imperfect food also helps change the tide of what grocers think consumers demand. If we can eradicate a world of arbitrary standards, we can drastically reduce the amount of food that goes to waste for cosmetic reasons."
How Does Buying Ugly Produce Reduce Food Waste?
You've likely heard food waste is a huge problem. As much as 40 percent of food in the United States is wasted and it's a large source of climate change causing greenhouse gas emissions. One of the main ideas behind companies' such as Imperfect Foods, Misfits Market, and Baldor Foods (one of the largest produce distributors in the Northeast) which sells imperfect fruits and vegetables from partner farms, was to find a way to reduce food waste. Most of the produce sold via these ugly produce services probably ended up as food waste previously though some may have been processed into shredded or spiralized vegetables or been distributed via food banks.
Where Can I Buy Ugly Produce?
It's never been easier to buy ugly fruits and vegetables. If you live close to a farm stand or farmers' market ask the farmer directly. Some supermarkets such as Whole Foods and select Key Foods sell imperfect produce, and then there are home delivery services for ugly fruits and vegetables via companies including Misfits Market, Imperfect Foods, and Hungry Harvest. And if you're a member of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), you're already sort of supporting the ugly produce movement. CSAs guarantee farmers a market for all their crops; members get a share of the farm's harvest each week, including produce that's larger or smaller or more twisted than the cosmetically perfect fruits and vegetables we're used to.