Voice of the Land

Are we about to see “Ugly” produce at our grocery stores? Will it be 30% cheaper?

Perfect red tomato

How “perfect” does it have to be? A new era of imperfect or “Ugly Foods” may be coming to a grocery store near you.

It may be coming. Over the last few months many articles have been written about it. It seems we are being made aware of the “problem of perfection” that our farmers and grocers suffer from. Whether you call them “imperfect”, “inglorious” or just plain “Ugly Foods”; they are just misshapen vegetables and bruised fruits. Farmers leave them on the ground and grocery stores reject them. And you can’t blame mom’s for choosing the best for their families. When you are paying top dollar, you certainly won’t choose the bruised, or withered one.

But the problem of food waste is real. Depending on the source, somewhere between an estimated 70 billion to 160 billion pounds of food is wasted in the US each year, at a cost of upwards of $200 billion a year, or 1,250 calories a day for each one of us. Research suggests the average American family of four wastes about 15 percent of the food it purchases. This waste carries another cost too in the form of the energy, water and fertilizer used to grow it. 50 percent of our land use and 80 percent of our freshwater resources go to agriculture.

So while what we throw away is not normally discussed as a global problem it is a big part of global sustainability, resource conservation, deforestation, fossil fuel use and water management. And the bread bowl of the midwest is suffering from drought and topsoil depletion which makes food waste one of the most urgent socio-environmental challenges of our time.

About a billion people around the world go to bed hungry every day. That is nearly one in seven people who is officially starving. This problem is likely to worsen with changing climate making growing food more challenging and a growing population. According to Science Daily, almost 9 percent of the world’s food is thrown away or left to spoil while 10 percent or more is lost to overeating. Which is especially eye opening; while a billion people starve, 6 billion are greedy and wasteful. Worldwide almost half of all crops harvested are lost to poor production processes, over-consumption and waste by consumers. So it is time for some creative solutions.

The biggest contributors of food waste are the grocery stores. Usually the food is rejected for esthetic reasons. Anything blemished is removed. This isn’t for safety. Legislation was put in place in 1996 to protect stores from prosecution should food be sold or donated past its “sell-by-date”. But stores are still hesitant to sell food considered to be “old” citing fears of litigation or bad press.

But awareness and knowledge do create change. The movement seems to be taking off around the world, particularly in Europe and Australia. 2014 was designated as the European Year Against Food Waste. Intermarche, France’s third largest grocery chain launched a campaign called “Les Fruits Legumes Mochas” or in English Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables”. In the United States Bon Appetite Management, a food-service company launched Imperfectly Delicious Produce, a program to divert ugly foods from the waste stream to restaurants and cafeterias. Through efforts of the Food Recovery Network (which Bon Appetite works with) and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Food Recovery Challenge food is recovered and given it to the needy. And in Boulder, CO we have Boulder Food Rescue, non-profit devoted to placing perishables in hungry bellies.

While we haven’t seen it in our grocery stores yet, with all the articles out about it, it looks like we will. For now we’re just being made “aware”. I have no doubt most people would like the opportunity at less than perfect produce at 30% off.  Who will be the first to jump on this opportunity to do the right thing.

The Guardian.com



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