Each year one-third of the world’s food goes to waste, often because of how it looks. Fruits and vegetables get thrown away at a higher rate than any other food, with six billion pounds of produce tossed each year. In the US, 26% of produce is discarded before it even reaches the grocery store. In honor of Earth Day taking place this year on April 22nd, we’re calling attention to unattractive fruits and vegetables and how you can make a difference.
What is ugly produce?
Food distributors and grocery stores set standards for how produce has to look. Even if the foods are safe to eat, if they look at all imperfect the fruit or vegetable is rejected and usually wasted. Ugly fruits and vegetables may not have a size, shape or color that fits retail criteria. For example, a potato with a weird knob on the end or a zucchini that is more curved than normal. These foods are just as nutritious as “normal” looking produce and are okay to eat. However, they end up getting thrown away before the food even reaches the grocery store shelf.
What impact does this have?
From a sustainability perspective, 97% of wasted food goes to landfills where it decomposes and produces methane gas. Methane is a potent global warming agent, 21 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. For every ton of food wasted, 3.8 tons of greenhouse gasses are emitted. Furthermore, tons of water are used each year to grow produce that is eventually lost.
The six billion pounds of food wasted annually world-wide is enough to feed two billion people. In America 1 in 7 people suffer from food insecurity, meaning they don’t have consistent access to enough food. This is equivalent to almost 50 million people and exists in virtually every community in our country.
Reducing food waste: how can you help?
- Plan out your meals, so you only buy as much produce as you need.
- Wash, chop, and prep produce right after buying, so it is ready to grab and use during the week.
- Eat leftovers a few nights per week.
- Freeze fruits or vegetables that are starting to turn bad.
- Blend bruised fruit into smoothies or shakes.
- Consider home composting or find a composter.
- Try this tasty recipe: ginger, coconut, carrot soup with beet sour cream
At the store:
- Choose frozen fruits and vegetables, which stay fresh for longer.
- Shop often, buying a few days worth of produce at a time, so there is less of a chance for waste.
- Support your local farmers markets and purchase fruits and veggies direct from the farmers.
- Utilize companies who supply surplus fruits and vegetables. Try Hungry Harvest on the east coast and Imperfect Produce on the west coast.
- Look for retailers who are committed to selling “ugly” produce at lower prices
- Share side dishes and entrees to keep portions under control and avoid wasting extras.
- Take leftovers home.
- Ask them to hold the bread or starter salads if you don’t plan to eat them.
In your community:
- Ask your local officials for curbside composting or food-scrap collection service.
- Inspire your school to join the USDA Food Waste Challenge
- Growing extra produce in your garden? Share the surplus through Ample Harvest or Ripe Near Me.
Eating ugly fruits and vegetables is a simple way to support our plant and help the world cut down on food waste. So next time you see an imperfect looking carrot or potato, go ahead and give it a try.