You shouldn't judge a book by its cover, nor a vegetable by its wonkiness.
While cosmetically imperfect produce tastes the same as its shapely counterparts, it is often overlooked, thrown away and wasted because its physicality. In the U.S. alone, an estimated six billion pounds of fruit and vegetables are wasted every year, a lot of it discarded simply because of appearance.
In a trial attempt to fight this ugly discrimination, Asda, a supermarket retailer in the United Kingdom, has been offering customers reduced-price "wonky veg boxes" since early this year.
The 5-kg boxes are packed with in-season produce that isn't necessarily pretty on the outside, but "beautiful on the inside," according to Asda's website. Each box is sold for £3.50, about 30 percent of the price that the same-sized box of good-looking vegetables would cost, intended to drive consumers to buy ugly and reduce food waste. The start of the campaign has been so successful that the chain rolled out the wonky veg boxes to 550 stores across the U.K. in March 2016.
Asda reports that relaxing the criteria for retail produce appearance has enabled 340 more tons of carrots and 300 more tons of sweet potatoes to be sold in stores ― food that would have otherwise been rejected and gone to waste.
What’s happening across the pond should happen in the states. Interestingly, Asda is owned by Walmart, a superstore that, with more than 5,000 retail locations across the U.S. and Puerto Rico, could make a huge dent in produce waste if it took up a similar program. But though Walmart has promoted Asda’s unsightly efforts on its website, it appears the retail giant has no plans to take on this important initiative in its motherland. A Walmart spokesperson told The Huffington Post that “unfortunately they don’t have [any plans] to share at this time!”
Efforts to get citizens to eat ugly have been made in other countries successfully. France’s third-largest supermarket, Intermarche, launched an “inglorious fruits and vegetables” campaign to change the nation’s perspective on ugly produce last year. Hideous produce was priced 30 percent cheaper than handsome fruit and veggies, and the stores sold an average of 1.2 tons of hideous produce during the first two days of the promotion.
And the U.S. isn’t hopeless. A California-based start-up called Imperfect is working with farmers to sell bundles of “cosmetically challenged” seasonal produce to subscribers. Meanwhile, a campaign on Change.org is calling for big food retailers to sell “less than perfect”-looking fruit and vegetables in their produce aisles.
If you’re interested in eating ugly to reduce food waste, tell your local retailers you want the option to buy more unattractive produce. It can make a big difference.
UPDATE: July 14 ― Walmart announced on July 13 that it has begun selling Spuglies, “Russet potatoes that were less than perfect on the outside thanks to rough weather in Texas,” at a value price.
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.