First off, let's stop calling less-than-picture-perfect produce "ugly." "Cosmetically challenged" is more like it. And buying that misshapen carrot or apple or tomato instead of its flawless counterpart is a simple but powerful choice you can make for a better world.
Ugly Produce and Food Waste
It's estimated that more than 40 percent of the edible food grown in the United States is thrown away somewhere between the farm and your fork. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, this means we're wasting about $165 billion in the energy, land, and water it takes to raise food we don't even eat. And where is this uneaten food ending up? In landfills, where it's the single largest category of solid waste in America. To make a bad situation even worse, we're throwing away food while one in six Americans goes hungry every day.
Beauty or Beast?
The vicious cycle of food waste starts with the consumer because, let's face it, you and I are blinded by beauty. So much so that, all else being equal, we'll choose a perfect apple over one that's a bit misshapen, even though they both deliver the same taste and nutrition. Grocery stores know this, so they don't buy gnarly-looking fruits and vegetables from produce wholesalers. The wholesalers know this, so they don't buy them from the farmers. The farmers know this, so the ugly stepchildren of the produce world are doomed from the start.
What You Can Do About It
Perception around food waste is starting to shift the world over, and you can be a part of this positive change.
Buy authentic. Start by examining your own perception of what produce "should" look like. Is a carrot a little twisted instead of perfectly straight? So what? It grew that way. That doesn't make it less nutritious or delicious. Buy the crazy carrot!
Buy smarter. Did you know that "baby carrots" are actually carved out of regular carrots that didn't pass the beauty test? Instead of supporting that kind of massive food waste, cut up your own bite-size carrot bits. Bonus: You'll save money and cut down on excess packaging at the same time.
Support change. At least two large grocery chains in the United States—Giant Eagle and Whole Foods—are partnering with Imperfect Produce to sell what it calls "Produce with Personality." So, if you see your local market experimenting with this kind of program, your buying power will encourage them to continue and expand.
Share your funny food photos. End Food Waste has a pretty cool Instagram that celebrates the twisted beauty of misshapen fruits and vegetables, and raises awareness of the global impact of food waste at the same time. #funactivism
Waste not. Once you've bought produce, eat it. Learn how to eat more of the plant from root to stem instead of throwing out perfectly edible parts. If you've bought too much, freeze excess produce or can that leftover harvest to eat later. Find ways to turn overripe fruit into applesauce, banana bread, or guacamole. If vegetables aren't too far gone, purée them into soups or add them to green smoothies. Turn peels into vegetable chips. Bottom line: Turn ugly food into delicious recipes.
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