As part of HuffPost’s “Reclaim” project, HuffPost Taste will focus the entire month of July on simple ways you can reduce food waste in your own home.
One of the simplest things you can do to help the planet thrive is to demand uglier produce. Buy the apple that has a funky knob coming out of its side. It'll taste just the same as its cosmetically pleasing counterpart.
Then tell your local grocer you want more uglies.
"It's the low hanging fruit of sustainability," as Jordan Figueiredo, the co-chair of the Zero Food Waste Forum, punnily puts it. Figueiredo and his partner Stefanie Sacks, a culinary nutritionist, are currently campaigning for a decrease in ugly food waste on Change.org. Their petition, which has more than 44,000 supporters as of August 6, is pushing big food retailers Whole Foods and Walmart to sell "less than perfect"-looking produce in their stores.
It sounds almost trite, but consider this: In the U.S., 26 percent of all produce is wasted before it even reaches the grocery store. (Even more is wasted once it lands in our kitchens.) A lot of that 26 percent is tossed because it doesn't meet our standard of beautiful. While there's no official government estimate on uglies waste, one farmer told NPR that about 30-35 percent of his crops is tossed "because of weird, cosmetic things they have."
Discarding uglies isn't good for our planet. When dumped into landfills, they decompose and produce methane, a gas that is 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. Methane absorbs the heat of the sun, further warming the atmosphere. That's not to mention the water used in the farming process just to produce food that's thrown away. According to the UN, the water required to grow food that's eventually wasted (not just uglies, but all food that winds up uneaten) equals three times the yearly flow of Russia’s Volga River.
This potato isn't cute, but it is edible.
Food waste is a colossal issue: Americans waste about 40 percent of their food, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. That's enough food to fill 730 football stadiums. Yet in 2013, 49.1 million American lived in "food insecure" households, meaning they didn't have dependable access to a commensurable amount of food. Instead of being thrown away, uglies can successfully be sold at a discount, making food more affordable, and farmers would be able to profit from more of their harvest.
Other countries have made progress in recognizing ugly food as important food. The European Union dubbed 2014 as the "Year Against Food Waste," and Intermarche, France's third-largest supermarket, launched an "inglorious fruits and vegetables" campaign to increase food waste awareness and change the nation's perspective on ugly produce. The effervescent movement featured characters like "The Grotesque Apple" and "The Disfigured Eggplant." These uglies were priced 30 percent cheaper in stores than the prettier fruits and vegetables. Intermarche stores each sold an average of 1.2 tons of hideous produce during the first two days of the promotion, the company said.
The United States has a long way to go, but unattractive fruits and vegetables are increasingly earning deserved attention. A California based start-up called Imperfect is making headlines for its continuous efforts to work with farmers to sell a weekly bundle of "cosmetically challenged" seasonal produce to subscribers.
This year, Dan Barber, a renowned chef and co-owner of Blue Hill, a New York City restaurant and its sister educational center focused on food consciousness, kicked off his wastED campaign in which he and local farmers and retailers reimagined and reused the foods that often go overlooked into edible delicacies. The three-week initiative used 600 pounds of ugly vegetables.
In July, the salad restaurant chain Sweetgreen collaborated with Barber to serve a "wastED salad," which is crafted from "ingredients within the supply chain that aren't typically used, but are in fact perfectly edible and delicious," a Sweetgreen representative told HuffPost. "The wastED project seeks to redefine what's edible and broaden what consumers consider to be 'food.'" The salad, which is made from veggies like roasted kale stems and cabbage cores, will be sold through the end of September. It certainly puts the food waste initiative on a more mainstream, accessible level.
In her Ted Talk this year, Food and Wine Magazine's editor in chief Dana Cowin called eating ugly a "movement": "If we can change our minds about the beauty of a tomato, then we can probably change our minds about the beauty of other ingredients," she said. "And if we can do that, if we can take what we once thought was ugly and see it as beautiful, we can reduce food waste and change the world." The magazine started the hashtag #LoveUglyFood to begin raising awareness.
The message in all of this seems to be the same one we've been taught since our pre-school days: Don't judge a book by its cover. Eating ugly is a simple, proactive way to begin to undo the trauma we've forced upon our planet. There's much more you can do to conserve and help the earth heal, but you can start by signing the petition and eating ugly. Watch John Oliver's take below to better understand the ridiculousness of wasting food:
Language in the petition embedded in this entry has been updated to reflect Walmart’s recent efforts to sell some “ugly” produce in the U.S.