Buying ugly produce, or ugly food, has become a popular cause in the fight against food waste. Proponents of buying ugly produce make the case that tons of food are wasted because it is unpresentable. A closer look at the food industry puts this claim into perspective. Much food that never leaves the field is because of overproduction or because it is overripe or it shows signs of insect damage or a plant disease and is unpresentable. Most food waste in the US, around 80%, is lost in the home, grocery stores, and restaurants. Purveyors of ugly produce buy their product from packinghouses of large producers, food that would not likely have been wasted anyway as it would have been processed for the food service industry, frozen or canned, fed to livestock, or plowed back into fields. The packinghouse industry reports that only about 1% of the food it processes ends up in a landfill.
Buying regular deliveries of ugly produce from companies like Hungry Harvest or Misfit Market can generate food waste in the end unless you are flexible and disciplined enough to use all the random vegetables and fruit you receive. My personal experience with Misfit Market is that the produce is good quality at a fair price, but not a bargain, if you can use it all, which was difficult sometimes. My chief objection to Misfit is the packaging, as the insulation material is not recyclable in Howard County and so ends up in a landfill. A better option would be to use local services like Howard County’s Roving Radish, which uses seasonal, often locally-produced food in pre-planned complete meal kits. My family has used the vegetarian option for an entire season now and find the portions generous, the meals easy to prepare with minimal, and sometimes no, food waste. Cost works out to about $5 per serving, and is eligible for food stamps and other local cost support. We often got a dinner and a lunch portion out of each meal. Two meals for four come in each order. Packaging is minimal as you must pick up your order from one of several drop off points across the county.
For more on this subject read:
- Food waste: a scientist explains why ugly produce won’t solve it – Vox, 26 February 2019
- Farms aren’t tossing perfectly good produce. You Are. – Sarah Tabor, Opinion piece for the Washington Post, 8 March 2019
- Does Your Box of “Ugly” Produce Really Help the Planet? Or Hurt it? – Emily Atkin, The New Republic, 11 January 2019