Veggies are among the most beautiful foods we can put into our bodies, yet we treat those with abnormalities as if they are bad for us. Tons of ugly vegetables are wasted every day. This Q&A with Jordan Figueiredo, creator of the @UglyFruitAndVeg campaign, should change minds about looks.
In the veggie world, there are no popularity contests, no beauty pageants, no kings and queens of the prom.
Yet every day, thousands of pounds of “ugly” veggies are judged for their looks and cast aside. As consumers, we expect handsome-looking peppers, potatoes and tomatoes on the supermarket shelf. Show us a carrot with two or three spears and we may react as if it were an amputated foot.
Is this the right message for our kids? We school them to embrace change, to accept the differences in themselves and in others as the unique characteristics that make each of us special. Yet that thinking does not extend to veggies with abnormalities. We literally have little appetite for ugly veggies, kind of how little kids are suspicious of new foods. And this is resulting in a lot of waste.
“It’s ingrained in our society to expect perfect produce almost everywhere and grocers are not trying to educate and change that,” explained Jordan Figueiredo, a California-based zero-waste professional and creator of EndFoodWaste.org and the @UglyFruitAndVeg campaign.
Today, a number of grocers are adding ugly fruits and veggies to their shelves, thanks in part to Jordan’s campaign. He took some time from his save-the-veggies mission to answer questions about ugly foods, what he calls the low-hanging fruit to waste prevention. Following are edited excerpts.
Vegy Vida: How does the treatment of “ugly” veggies affect us as a nation, and as consumers?
Jordan Figueiredo: While one in six (people) are food insecure, we’re wasting about one-fourth of all produce before reaching the store – mostly because of cosmetics that do not affect taste or nutrition. It’s a tragic waste of resources and good food.
VV: What happens to these veggies?
JF: Some are landfilled, some are composted, but most are left to rot in the field.
VV: How many veggies go to waste a year because of the way they look?
JF: The data isn’t perfect but it’s about 20 billion pounds. (That breaks down to a whopping 55 million pounds, or 27,500 tons, a day!)
VV: What does that mean to the environment?
JF: A lot. Food waste in general takes up about one-quarter of all fresh water, 4 percent of the energy budget, and about 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. And that’s all for food we never eat.
VV: What makes some veggies look different? Is it merely just by chance?
JF: It’s just nature. Not everything grows perfect and the same. Sometimes it’s weather; sometimes it’s a rock or clump in the soil that causes something to grow this way or that. It’s just nature – not perfect, but still amazing and beautiful.
VV: Are ugly veggies they just as nutritious as “pretty” vegetables?
VV: What can people do to reduce the waste of ugly veggies?
JF: Ask their grocer or (sellers at the) farmers’ market for them. Go gleaning to save them. Volunteer at food banks that get (ugly veggies) to those in need. Also, sign my petition to Walmart at www.Change.org/WhatTheForkWalmart, since having the largest retailer selling them could change everything.
VV: What resources do you recommend?
JF: My website – www.EndFoodWaste.org. And again, talk to your farmers and farmers’ markets. Grow your own food and see that nature isn’t perfect but it’s beautiful and delicious nonetheless.
VV: Thanks Jordan, we couldn’t say it better!