Embrace ugly fruit and veg

I love the misshapen carrots that I’ve been buying from the veggie-growing guy outside of town. They’re fun and they taste far better – like carrots! – than any supermarket carrots. These carrots reminded me of the ‘Ugly Fruit & Veg’ campaign.

Every year in the US, 20-40% (that’s at least 1 in 5) of fresh produce is discarded even before it gets into stores because it is ‘ugly’. Like a misshapen tomato, a too curved cucumber or a lumpy potato. The ‘Ugly Fruit & Veg Campaign‘ encourages us to buy ugly and focuses not on what is on the outside, but what is on the inside – the taste and nutritional goodness of fruits and vegetables that are not visually perfect.

In this article on the Huffington Post UK, they state that “20 billion pounds consisting mostly of perfectly nutritious and delicious produce, that looks less than “perfect,” wasted every 12 months”. That’s an enormous volume of perfectly good food!

It is not just that there are ridiculous marketing standards that specify sizes, diameter, consistency and colour of produce (interestingly, standards don’t specify ripeness or taste); we are also the problem. We’ve been trained to shop with our eyes and to go for perfect apples, tomatoes and carrots – those that are ideally shaped, coloured and blemish-free.

Pressure from shoppers, supermarkets and farmers sees rules being shed in the US and Europe and more ugly produce is being sold alongside aesthetically appealing versions.

In the US and Europe, there are now grocery stores and home delivery services that sell ugly produce that is perfectly good to eat – and cheaper. These are ideal outlets for farmers to sell produce that is less visually appealing at a good price. Once fruit and veg are chopped up and tossed into a salad, baking dish, juice, stew or soup, does it really matter that it was misshapen when you bought it? Another bonus – children are delighted by the strange forms of wonky carrots and other misshapen veg. Buying ugly is a win-win.

French supermarket Intermarché lauched a campaign in March 2014 and began selling scarred, disfigured, or otherwise odd-shaped fruits and vegetables at 30% less – and they sold out in their first two days. Their sexy marketing campaign pulled shoppers in, and they stayed. Here’s an English version of Intermarché’s video:

While Intermarché is old news, as yet there are no South African shops listed in the directory on the Ugly Fruit & Veg Campaign website. Instead there are links to the contact details for grocery stores like Woolies, PnP, Spar, Shoprite and Massmart and the campaign encourages us to contact these companies – to put pressure on them – and  to request that they sell ugly too.

This article ‘Embracing imperfect food‘ in Plaastoe! magazine (4 Feb 2016, the article is in English) highlights the South African food waste situation.

The Huffington Post article suggests actions that everyone, shops, schools and governments can take to reduce waste of perfectly good produce and encourage greater and easier access to ugly fruit and veg at good prices. Support independent produce stores and speak to their owners about selling ugly. And, grow your own great-tasting, charmingly ugly veggies.

When it comes to fruits and vegetables, taste, texture, flavour and good nutrition are far more important than appearance. We just need to remember this when we shop.

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