Why loving ugly fruit and vegetables is good for the environment, the economy and a #ZeroHunger world
It is often said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But when it comes to fruit and vegetables, one third of them never even make it to our grocery store shelves because they are rejected on their way from the farm to the store. While supermarkets have a part to play in this, we must also examine our own consciences. Would we choose the oval-shaped, matte-colored apple or the perfectly rounded shiny one? One of these would definitely make a nicer Instagram photo than the other, but in the end, both would taste equally as good and would satisfy your hunger.
821 million people go hungry every day, while the world as a whole wastes or loses 1/3 of what is produced. In the case of fruits and vegetables, almost half (45%) is wasted. In our world of increasing extreme weather events and changes in climate, saving ugly fruit isn’t only an issue of ethics, it is a question of resources. Valuable natural resources go into producing the food we throw away. It takes 13 litres of water to grow 1 tomato and 50 litres of water to produce one orange. It also takes seeds, soil, labour of farmers and even the fuel that goes into transporting the food. All of these resources are lost when the fruit (pun intended) of these labours is lost.
Waste can happen in many ways and at many different parts of the value chain. Let’s hear the stories of a carrot, banana and potato.
The carrot’s story
A carrot often faces many obstacles before even getting to a supermarket. It must pass the rigid requirements that supermarkets have for their fruits and vegetables. Sometimes, carrots must go through photographic sensor machines that analyze them for aesthetic defects. If they are slightly bent, not bright orange, have a blemish or are broken, they are moved into the pile intended for livestock feed even though they are still fit for human consumption. In total about 25-30% of carrots, don’t make it to the grocery store because of physical or aesthetic defects. At farmers markets or farm shops, sales of carrots can bypass some of the strict aesthetic standards that supermarkets have, but would you buy an untraditional-looking carrot?
The banana’s story
Bananas are a particularly fragile fruit. Even if they make it to the grocery stores or markets, the way they are stacked or the way they have been packaged can damage these softies. Handling bananas roughly can negatively impact their appearance and can cause the fruit to spoil more quickly. Consumers are then not normally keen to buy produce that is over-ripe, soft, discolored or damaged. So, here’s a tip for you: If you intend to eat the fruit the same day, buy the ones that are already ripe. If no one chooses them, they will end up in the garbage instead of someone’s stomach.
“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.” - Confucius
The potato’s story
Some food like, potatoes, are lost or wasted when they are processed into other types of food. For example, potatoes destined to be French fries, can be wasted in the stage where they are cut into strips. These strips break easily during the processing and packaging stages. The broken pieces are then often thrown out because it is usually cheaper to dispose of them than to reuse them. Other potatoes that get damaged during the loading or transport phase get excluded before even making it to the packaging factory. Developing markets for “sub-standard” produce and products, like broken potatoes, which are still safe for consumption, nutritious and taste good, would be one way to reduce food waste or losses caused by errors in processing, packaging or transporting.
Most of this waste is preventable. Choosing ugly produce, storing fruits and vegetables properly and eating what you already have in the refrigerator before what is newly purchased are just some things that each of us can do in our daily lives to create a #ZeroHunger world and combat climate change. Make room in your heart for ugly fruits so that they fill stomachs and not landfills.