January 9, 2012

ugly produce project

Last night I stayed up to watch The Big Waste on the Food Network. On the show, 4 chefs (2 on each team) are challenged to feed 100 people a gourmet meal using only food that is considered waste. (A nice synopsis here.) Hitting up bakeries, grocery stores, food suppliers, and orchards the chefs and viewers see first hand how much food is wasted regularly. The show claimed that in the US,  enough food to fill a football field is wasted every day. Every...Day...I was floored! While the concept of food waste and overproduction isn't new to me (per my food ideologies class last year) the quantification hit home. Hard.

Within just a few minutes of the program I was reminded how much food is deemed waste simply because it is "ugly". I remember this concept vividly from a study about the creation of baby carrots. While they are called "baby carrots" they are in reality ugly carrots that have been whittled down in the interest of reducing waste. More about that here. While this idea is ingenious and helping to tackle the aforementioned problem, there is always a downside. I could go on and on about this, but overall the negative aspect is the amount of processing necessary to achieve this appealing shape. An enormous amount of energy is now put into creating the baby carrot, all because we want to avoid "ugly produce." For me...that's a thinker.

So...today...I am making a pledge. I pledge to buy ugly produce. Instead of searching for the perfect bunch of grapes, the roundest juiciest oranges, the tomatoes without the cracks and bruises, I will embrace the runts, misshapes, and imperfections.  I will remember that inner beauty is more important than outer. I won't judge a book by it's cover, so why should I judge my produce that way? I'm calling it ...


I will do my best as I cook my way through 2012 to report back to you about what I find. I imagine there will be some produce that is better in "great" shape, but I am excited to find out which are better when bruised. It is my goal to help break the cycle and prove that so-called damaged produce is just a delicious, if not more, as those deemed "perfect". I hope you will join me in this effort. Or at least think about this during your next produce selection. 

The funniest part about it to me is that we have been doing this already...in the name of organic. Organic produce is often smaller and a little less pretty, but costs twice as much! This is just another step towards the challenge against processed foods. Maybe if we can embrace imperfect food, we can work our way back to a real food chain? Ok...enough preaching, I promise. 

But...before I go, if you plan to join me (for the full project or just here and there) please let me encourage you to first ask your grocer if they are currently donating their "damaged goods" to their local food bank. As a volunteer at Food Lifeline I know how important those donations are. Buying up their "ugly" produce would reduce that donation. Sadly, not every grocer takes advantage of that type of relationship, or the local food bank doesn't have enough volunteer drivers to help transport the goods. If you have a truck and some spare time, I encourage you to contact your local food bank and see if they need assistance.  It is a very rewarding experience. 


2 comments:

  1. So funny... I love buying beatup produce and other things, knowing that if we all just bought produce that was fine but perhaps not "perfect" like the others on the shelf, we could reduce a lot of waste.

    I've noticed that farmer's markets also tend to sell a lot of produce that wouldn't pass in many grocery stores, so you can sometimes get a better price on it, and support your local produce makers. As an extra benefit, less energy is typical used to get farmer market items to the market!

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  2. That's a good point! During school I didn't have much time for farmers market shopping, but now that I have more free time I should make it a point to visit the vendors again!

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