The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Food of Environmental Activism

by Zoey Shipley and Miro Korenha

In America, 30-40% (by weight) of food goes to waste each day–which also wastes water and creates needless GHG emissions. One solution that’s been floated to combat food waste is selling more “ugly” produce to consumers. As Vox explained, venture capital-backed companies like Imperfect Produce, Full Harvest, Hungry Harvest, and Misfits Market say they create a new channel of distribution for farmers, offer customers ugly produce at a significant discount to what the groceries would cost at retail, then donate the rest to food banks. But ultimately, their effectiveness at fighting food waste has been met with skepticism.

What Counts as Ugly?: “Ugly” food can be thought of as the produce that “doesn’t meet stringent grocery-store or restaurant standards.” Companies like Hungry Harvest speak to how they have “rescued 15 million pounds of food waste” thanks to their work but other groups argue that these companies are diving more local groups and producers out of business, producing more waste than what was the original amount, and are even hurting local food banks.

 

Crop scientist Dr. Sarah Taber, in fact, says that the industry is a sham. Just read her Twitter thread to understand why.

She doesn’t mince her words,

“As someone who works in produce, this whole “ugly fruit” movement is actually kind of enraging bc it’s completely disconnected from what really happens in the supply chain. It’s a big honkin wad of bullshit that self-promoting foodies get away with bc nobody knows better.”

Go Deeper: How ugly produce has ignited an all-out food war. 

Why This Matters: The environmental cost of food waste is staggering: according to the Washington Post it claims “30 million acres of cropland, 4.2 trillion gallons of water, and nearly 2 billion pounds of fertilizer.” There are numerous policy and public awareness measures that could go a long way in reducing food waste, but it’s an issue that needs to be prioritized far more than it is. Especially in the context of fighting climate change.

What Does That Mean for Conscious Consumers?

This all can seem very overwhelming. Today, it can be hard to try to make environmentally conscious choices to only learn that it may not have been as great a choice as you thought. But there are steps you can make to help in the reduction of food waste, with or without these delivery services.

  • Try to make a plan for your meals so you only buy what you need.

  • Use (or try to use) all the food/produce that you buy.

  • Do research on the companies if you are thinking of signing up for a food delivery service. Such as Misfit Market that works to deliver to every zip code in the states that it operates in (not just richer urban areas).

  • Make donations to your local food pantries and other organizations that work to get food to people who need it most.

  • Support local growers and attend events like local farmer’s markets (when it is safe for you to attend

As Dr. Sarah Taber explained in an interview with Vox,

“The first thing I want to say is if you’re buying ugly produce and it’s working for you, that’s fine. Keep doing it. Don’t feel guilty. That’s how food systems are supposed to work — it’s supposed to get what you want. But you should not feel obligated to buy ugly fruit because someone told you it’s going to save the world. It’s not. It’s just supporting someone’s business model.”

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