Food waste is a topic that has seemingly flown under the radar. In 2015, the value of food waste from homes, businesses, farms, and manufacturers in the U.S. alone was $218 billion. This does not take into consideration the resources wasted to produce the food, such as water, soil, labor, etc. Globally, some estimates suggest that roughly one-third of all food produced globally goes to waste. A major contributor to our food waste problem is waste that occurs before the food even reaches the supermarkets, commonly referred to as “ugly” food. This includes produce that is unusually shaped or curved, too big, too small, or even slightly discolored. This food is unsightly, yet perfectly good to eat.
Food waste in the U.S. is bad enough with the amount of produce and food options available to us in recent years. In fact, if food waste in the U.S. was considered in isolation, it would be the third largest producer of greenhouse gases in the world, only behind China and the United States. We produce too much, we put too much on our plates, and we are too quick to throw away (im)perfectly good food.
Until recently, restaurants and markets would reject imperfect fruits and vegetables due to consumer preferences, causing farmers to waste much of their harvest. That is all beginning to change, as consumers shift to an environmentally conscious lifestyle. Businesses like Imperfect Produce and Hungry Harvest are sprouting up and taking on the task of delivering naturally imperfect foods to customers. In 2016, Imperfect Produce partnered with Whole Foods to sell the aesthetically-challenged produce at several California locations.
The focus of the ugly food movement has been on the local consumer, but the possible impact the movement could have on the global hunger crisis cannot be ignored. It could be argued that the consumer-centric approach to the ugly food movement is misguided, given that there are approximately 800 billion people around the world suffering from hunger. Potentially shifting the focus to supplying the hungry population with the less cosmetically appealing produce could be a step in the right direction toward solving the global hunger crisis.