Fresh Produce, Food Waste, and You

From our friends at Healthy Communities Wyandotte:

A vicious cycle has been created by consumers and grocery distributors that has led to millions of pounds of food waste every year: the valuation of appearance over quality. Because of our agricultural industry’s cosmetic standards, about half of our fruits and vegetables get thrown away or sent to feed livestock. There is nothing wrong with this produce, but because it does not fit our idea of what a carrot, potato, or strawberry should look like, it is deemed unfit to grace the shelves of your local grocery store.

This practice is truly unacceptable since it wastes the resources put into growing these crops, such as water, oil, fertilizer, and not to mention time. Plus more often than not, these “ugly” fruits and vegetables go to landfills rather than to hungry people who could still be taking advantage of this perfectly fresh and nutritious food. This “cult of perfection” also harms farmers because they cannot sell half their produce and some shipments are rejected by grocers, and the farmers are never compensated even though the produce they offer is still fresh.

Several companies have popped up to start changing this culture around the appearance of our food. Imperfect Produce operates in the Bay area in California to deliver ugly fruits and vegetables at a discount of 30-50% to local consumers. Similarly, Raley’s supermarkets in California and Nevada are adding sections for “Real Good” produce which does not conform to typical cosmetic standards, and accompanying these new additions with in store education. A Massachusetts nonprofit called Daily Table, founded by former president of Trader Joe’s, Doug Rauch, takes rejected produce and sells it at a discounted price along with surplus goods and to-go meals. There are international efforts surrounding non-conformist produce as well.

There are also several organizations around the Kansas City metro area that are working hard to rescue produce that would otherwise go to waste. After the Harvest is a gleaning organization that harvests crops from local farms too small or undesirable for commercial sale and donates them to local food pantries and warehouses, like Harvesters, as a way of providing fresh produce to food insecure families. NourishKC also partners with several area grocery stores and other organizations to rescue food to turn into delicious meals at one of their community kitchens.

With a quickly rising population, estimated to reach 7 billion by the year 2050, these efforts regarding food waste and hunger can seem like too little too late. However, many experts believe that if we manage to shift our cultural view to consume less meat and dairy, along with reducing our waste, we will not have to destroy more wild lands than we already have. It’s true that we can have it all, less food waste, less hunger, and more environmental conservation, but only by making the vital changes necessary to our relationship with food. Being less picky about pretty produce and making an effort to divert as much food as possible from the landfill, be it either from composting, or buying less in the first place, or any other number of practices to reduce our waste are all important. And that work starts at home with you and me.

Download a PDF copy of this article and learn more on the Healthy Communities Wyandotte website.