It's Time to Embrace Ugly Produce

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A tomato doesn't have to be perfectly round to taste perfectly good. (Photo: Tamas Panczel - Eross/Shutterstock)

Of all the food waste issues we have (and there are many), the ugly produce issue should be simple to solve. Tons of perfectly edible fruits and vegetables never make it to market each year because they aren't pretty to look at. We've become so accustomed to our food looking perfect that misshapen tomatoes or carrots that aren't perfectly straight are considered undesirable — even though they taste and have the same nutrients as their perfectly-shaped counterparts.

Sometimes, the ugly produce gets used by manufacturers or artisans as ingredients in other foods, but often it ends up going to waste — getting turned over in the fields, thrown into a compost pile or used as animal feed. With so many people in our country and around the world facing hunger, the fact that perfectly delicious and nutritious food is seen as inedible because it doesn't meet beauty standards is crazy.

In France, one grocery chain has chosen to embrace what it calls "inglorious" fruits and vegetables, selling them for 30 percent less than their perfect counterparts. The store sells out of this ugly produce on a regular basis. Here in the United States, Walmart has promised to start an ugly produce pilot program at 300 stores, selling dented apples to see how it goes.

We're starting to like ugly produce, but it's time we quickly jump into a full on love affair with it, valuing each apple, carrot, strawberry and potato for what's on the inside and not how it looks on the outside. There's no reason why everyone shouldn't be on board with eating ugly produce, but a recent Harris Poll reveals that far too many of us are still concerned with the appearance of apples.

Here are some of the findings from the poll of 2,025 U.S. adults aged 18 and older who were surveyed online between Aug. 10-12, 2016:

  • 62 percent of adults (about three in five) say they would be "somewhat comfortable" eating ugly produce (leaving 38 percent — about 2 out of 5 people — to reject the fruits and vegetable based on appearance.)
  • 76 percent of adults would expect to pay less for ugly produce.
  • Fewer then three in 10 Americans (28 percent) say they remember buying ugly produce in the last year. Of that 28 percent, 60 percent of them said they did so for the price discount.
  • 51 percent of Americans are sure they didn't buy ugly produce in the last year; (the remainder are unsure.)

We can do better than this. The ugly produce needs to get to market — whether it's the farmers market or grocery store — so people will have the opportunity to buy it. The 38 percent of people who aren't comfortable with ugly produce, quite frankly, just need to get over it. It's perfectly good food that shouldn't go to waste. If it's going to be sold at a lower price, let's make sure it's abundantly available to the food insecure so they can stretch their grocery dollars while still buying nutritious fruits and vegetables.

When it comes to solving this small portion of our food waste problem, it seems the ugly produce problem shouldn't be a problem at all.