Thanks to Imperfect Produce, less food is thrown away, farmers earn more, and you can enjoy farm-fresh seasonal food at reduced prices.
Did you know that 20 percent of vegetables and fruit grown in the United States goes to waste? This occurs because grocery stores have aesthetic standards that prevent the sale of less-than-perfect produce. Despite the fact that outward appearance has no effect on functionality or nutritional value (if anything, it might improve it), this ridiculous standard means that billions of pounds of fresh healthy food go to waste every year.
One American company called Imperfect Produce has come up with a logical solution to the problem. It offers a subscription box service that delivers 'ugly' vegetables and fruit to people's doorsteps on a weekly basis. This simple idea addresses multiple issues at the same time -- shoppers' desire for seasonal produce, farmers' need for stable income, and a reduction in the colossal amount of food wasted and all its embodied resources.
Most of the food comes from within the U.S., but in the off-season the company does source from Mexico and elsewhere. As it explains in the FAQ section of its website,
"Our primary focus is reducing waste. Food waste has no borders. Waste is a problem worldwide, and we do what we can to reduce waste wherever and however we can."
The box is entirely customizable. This means that shoppers can choose whether they want an organic or conventional produce box. Each week a list of available items is posted and, in keeping with the company's goal to reduce unnecessary waste, customers can choose exactly what they want. Pricing is based on weight, with items priced individually. On average a small box (7-9 lbs) costs $11-13 for conventional or $15-17 for organic, while an extra large (23-25 lbs) is $25-27 for conventional, $39-43 for organic. The company says this is 30-50 percent cheaper than grocery store prices.
Deliveries happen on a predetermined day each week according to neighborhood, in order to minimize the carbon footprint. The boxes are currently available throughout Los Angeles, Orange County, and the Bay Area, as well as select cities, including Chicago, Indianapolis, San Antonio, Seattle, Portland, and Milwaukee. Expansion is happening quickly, so you might soon find your hometown on the list.
Shoppers in general are becoming more aware of ugly produce and its benefits. A similar business model in London called Oddbox has witnessed a 650 percent increase in business over the past year, which is phenomenal. Some grocery stores now sell lines of specially-packaged imperfect produce at reduced prices. I've noticed that my own grocer has moved the clearance cart to the front of the produce section to make it more easily accessible. This collective shift toward accepting imperfect food is a good thing, and I hope that businesses like Imperfect Produce will succeed and grow.