Ugly Fruits & Vegetables
Why Jordan Figueiredo Loves Ugly Produce and You Should Too
I have been in the solid waste and recycling field for over seven years; working to reduce waste going to landfill from the community level.
And, over a year ago, I became obsessed with saving “ugly” fruits and veggies. Why?! Approximately 26% of all fruits and vegetables go uneaten and are wasted before they reach stores in the U.S. This leads to billions upon billions of pounds of perfectly tasty, fresh, and nutritious produce going to waste every year.
Here are some surprising statistics – we live in a country where 1 in 6 people are food insecure (or do not know where their next meal is coming from at some point, but likely many times, during the year). Over 85% of Americans are not getting enough produce in their diet, and 25% of our fresh water goes to produce that we will never eat. America, we can do better with these issues by grabbing this low-hanging fruit (and vegetable) solution!
But why does this happen? Why do we waste so much produce before it has a chance to be purchased? Being picky deserves much of the blame. Large grocery stores (and produce marketing associations) systematically reject fruits and vegetables at the farms and packing houses because of imperfections in size, shape and color. They know that shoppers tend to “eat with their eyes.” It’s true and I used to do this myself before I realized that not all produce grows “perfectly” and this meant so much of it was going to waste.
To draw attention to this problem in Europe (the problem exists all over the “western developed world”), the French supermarket chain Intermarche teamed up with an advertising agency to launch the Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables Campaign. Inglorious put a new spin on “ugly” produce by distributing fun, lovable, and even bizarrely sexy photos of “less-than-perfect” fruits and vegetables.
Late, last year I borrowed this idea from the French; starting an anti-waste/ugly produce social media campaign for an American audience. I featured fruits and vegetables in amazing shapes: peaches that look like birds, plums that look like hearts, and everyone’s favorite, carrots that look like they’re embracing after a long time apart. I thought: Why not try a social media campaign that reaches the American public? It could have a fun environmental and socially conscious message that doesn’t shame people!
The campaign caught on fast and has been growing ever since. Not only in the U.S. but all over the world as it’s now reaching over 50,000 followers in over 100 countries. The campaign has been fortunate to have feature articles in almost 100 publications ranging from NPR and the Los Angeles Times, to Food and Wine, and more. I even had a fun segment on the TODAY Show in September, as well as being a featured speaker at various conferences around the U.S. to great reception. All to which has proven this issue resonates with people everywhere.
But what’s the best thing about ugly produce? The cost that makes tasty, nutritious produce more accessible to all. Because farmers have such a hard time getting grocers to purchase their not quite “perfect” produce, they sell “ugly” produce for 30% to 50% off. There are some companies already taking advantage of this to prevent food from going to waste and sell it. Out west where I’m located, we have Imperfect of Emeryville, California who delivers “ugly” produce straight to your door. Out east, there’s Hungry Harvest in the Washington, D.C. area who offers a similar program.
A couple of grocery chains have started as well with Raley’s in Northern California and Associated Foods in Utah, both with small pilots. Unfortunately though, we still do not have a large national grocery chain selling ugly produce (despite two in Canada and many in Europe who are doing so). And while farmers are doing a great job to donate what ugly produce they can to food banks and pantries, they cannot donate all of it because there is so much. We really need large grocers to tackle this wasteful issue to make a lasting impact. That is why I teamed up with Stefanie Sacks, Author of What the Fork are You Eating? to petition Walmart and Whole Foods to sell ugly produce in the U.S. and that resonated with folks as this cause has more than 110,000 signatures.
So join the ugly fruit and vegetable revolution and purchase “uglies” wherever you can: farmers market, corner store, corner stand, and hopefully a grocery store near you soon! You can also join in the fun activism with my @UglyFruitAndVeg Campaign on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Or, sign the petition at www.Change.org/WhatTheFork. The produce might look a little ugly at times but, if we can stop wasting this delicious produce of the earth, the result will be beautiful.
Originally published in the January 2015 issue of Freedom Farms Magazine, written and pictures provided by Jordan Figueiredo. Cover image credit @organicroadmap.