For a couple of years already, the 'Ugly Food' movement has been growing across the United States and beyond. With companies like Google and Cargill and personalities like Jamie Oliver embracing it, it is now a trend that could hopefully become a mainstay of the American diet.
Ugly food is the produce that does not meet the commercial 'cosmetic' standards of the present-day shopper: carrots that are too oddly shaped, apples with a couple of brown spots, twisted cucumbers, watermelons with a web of yellow veins showing at the bottom - you know, the type of produce you are tempted to discard at the grocery store because it looks somewhat defective.
Up to 40% of produce in the United States (and about a third of the global produce production) goes to waste because people have gotten used to perfect shapes and refuse to buy ugly. The losses are statistically more significant in the category of fruit and vegetables, where 45% go to waste globally.
However, ask yourself: is ugly food bad?
On the contrary. Its ugliness comes from the fact that it's natural, and nature is, well, imperfect. Be suspicious of the wax-like perfection of a round green apple and be more accepting of the imperfect shape that comes with natural growth. Imperfection often stems from the produce's fight for survival and is thought to signal produce that is more nutritious, sweeter, richer in antioxidants and generally healthier than pesticide-laden, perfect-looking fruit. In fact, research indicates that the stress of fighting environmental attacks makes the produce altogether better for you.
When 50 million Americans are facing hunger, you would think the first step to deal with that problem would be to cut down food waste. However, that is nearly impossible at an individual level, since supermarkets and grocery stores usually dismiss ugly food outright, without offering customers the possibility to buy them at lower price tags.
The movement to bring ugly food to the consumer is now gaining some momentum, given the disturbing statistics we see on how food waste might affect our future. The food that is not consumed goes to a landfill, where it constitutes the single largest waste product. (Add in the pollution and financial costs caused by transportation to the landfill.) Once there, food waste rots and creates methane, a highly noxious greenhouse gas, leading to another disturbing figure: food waste accounts for about 8% of global climate pollution.
Not only is ugly food often the sign of a more natural growth process, but buying and consuming it in large quantities would solve, at least in part, the huge environmental problem of food waste that looms large in our future - and it would help reduce world hunger. Also, reducing pollution by cutting down food waste is good for your pocket, too: ugly produce is significantly cheaper than blemish-free food.