At a supermarket like Whole Foods, a produce display can be a work of art. Lush greens and bright reds fill the aisles, drawing shoppers to mounds of perfectly spherical melons and ripe, blushing tomatoes.
But these delightful displays have a hidden cost. For each slender carrot or shapely avocado there’s another, uglier vegetable out there somewhere ― likely rotting in a crop field, compost pile or landfill.
Nearly half of all fruits and veggies in the U.S. are tossed out ― and much of that waste occurs because the items are battered or misshapen, The Guardian reports. Farmers leave imperfect crops to rot in the fields, and supermarkets won’t stock items that don’t look or feel just right.
“It’s all about blemish-free produce,” Jay Johnson, who ships fruit and vegetables from North Carolina and Florida, told The Guardian. “What happens in our business today is that it is either perfect, or it gets rejected. It is perfect to them, or they turn it down. And then you are stuck.”
Whole Foods and other supermarkets are starting to push back against these exacting cosmetic standards.
“Whole Foods Market’s goal is zero waste and we’re always looking for ways to reduce our collective impact,” a Whole Food’s spokeswoman told The Huffington Post.
Earlier this year, Whole Foods launched a program to sell weird-looking fruits and veggies in some stores. The effort, which began in Northern California, followed a Change.org petition from food waste activist Jordan Figueiredo calling on the supermarket to give ugly produce more love. Whole Foods also uses cosmetically challenged items in juices, smoothies and pre-made foods, according to NPR.
In New York City, the company now is selling weird-looking produce at its new location in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
But displays of unique produce tend to be few and far between. More common at Whole Foods and supermarkets across the country are the artful produce displays where each plump eggplant or vibrant pepper looks more or less identical to the others piled around it ― displays like this one, captured by HuffPost photographer Gabriela Landazuri Saltos at a Whole Foods location in Manhattan:
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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified mangoes as apples.