The phrase “it’s what’s inside that counts” certainly applies to fruits and vegetables. Yet, since we eat with our eyes, it’s the picture perfect produce that grower’s ship, retailers stock and customers select.
There’s a movement under way that puts “ugly” produce in the spotlight. This trend is not only better for the planet, but for people, too. It inspires us to eat more of these great-tasting foods every day. It’s not just the beauty queens, it’s the plain Janes and even misshapen monsters whose hearts offer just as much disease-preventing nutrients.
Forty percent of the food grown in the United States ends up in the trash, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a New York City-based non-profit environmental advocacy group. As a food group, fruits and vegetables rank highest in waste, with only 48 percent consumed. This compares to 62 percent, 78 percent and 80 percent for grains, meats and milk, respectively.
And it’s not just Americans who are wasteful. The Bristol, U.K.-based Soil Association estimates that 20 to 40 percent of produce grown in those countries is rejected for cosmetic reasons, primarily because it is misshapen.
Problems with this waste are two-fold. First, discarding produce also means throwing away the scarce land and water resources used to grow it, not to mention the belching of methane that’s emitted when fruits and vegetables rot in landfills.
Second, folks in the industrialized world don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. In fact, a UK study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health in 2014, which surveyed 65,000-plus people over 12 years, found that when compared to eating less than one serving of fruits or vegetables daily, the risk of death by any cause was reduced 14 percent by eating 1-3 servings, 29 percent for 3-5 servings, 36 percent for 5-7 servings and 42 percent for seven or more servings.
Retailers on both sides of the pond are bucking this tide by putting what they call “ugly” fruits and vegetables on their shelves. In the U.S., Raley’s Family of Fine Stores based in West Sacramento, Calif., debuted its Real Good produce program earlier this year in partnership with Imperfect Produce, a company that specifically sources and sells what it calls cosmetically challenged yet culinary-sound fruits and vegetables. The chain has been able to sell items like plums, pears and peppers for as much as 30 percent cheaper than its perfect-looking counterparts.
Intermarche, the third largest supermarket chain in France, launched its Inglorious Fruit and Vegetable campaign in 2014. Advertisements featured poster children such as “the ugly carrot”, “the grotesque apple”, and “the ridiculous potato”. These ugly ducklings were showcased in their own aisle and for a significant (30 percent or more) cost savings. The campaign was so popular that five competing supermarket chains started similar programs of their own.
The real point is that if you’re blending carrots, cutting up apples or mashing potatoes, it doesn’t really matter what a fruit or vegetable looks like on the outside. It’s what’s on the inside – the taste and nutrients – that counts.
Here are three tasty ways to add “ugly” produce to your diet:
Carol Bareuther is a registered dietitian and freelance health and nutrition writer. Contact her through www.the-triton.com/author/carol-bareuther.