Continuing with alternative food movements, let’s get acquainted with the Ugly Food movement. The Ugly Food movement is a rather new trend and in contrast to the Local Food movement, it is not quite a grassroots movement, but rather has its beginnings with startup companies delivering fresh and healthy food packages. Yet, in a very short time it has been adopted by many individual consumers who seek to reduce food waste and wish to save money while buying fresh produce. This movement aims to reduce the waste within the modern food supply system and to make it easy and affordable for people to eat healthily by encouraging consumers to “embrace all that is edible, not just what is beautiful”.
We live in a very visual world – consumers worldwide are conditioned to judge and choose food by its appearance. High cosmetic standards for the size, shape, and colour of produce greatly influence consumer habits. Perfectly edible produce gets rejected by consumers and retailers on account of appearances. Great quantities of fruit and vegetables never reach the shelves at grocery stores for the only reason that their appearance is not perfect. Ill coloured, bruised or malformed, wonky fruit and vegetables –”ugly” food – are typically not chosen by the customers. This food goes to waste and farmers don’t earn from it.
Yet, these foods taste the same and are just as nutritious as the prettier ones. It’s tricky to demand that vegetables and fruit look “as though they were manufactured in a factory from a template”, as the curvature of a cucumber or a blemish on an almond will not affect the taste. So just why throw completely good food away? Especially when many cannot afford to buy healthy food.
According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), food production is the biggest user of natural resources and emitter of greenhouse gases. Some 63 million tons of food a year is thrown away in the USA alone. Followers of the Ugly Food movement believe the consumers’ demand for perfection produces food waste and urge retailers to stock imperfect produce: fruit and vegetables declared too misshapen or weird-looking. When food is wasted, the many resources used to grow the food such as energy and water are also wasted. Consequently, consuming “ugly” foods will help sustainability and the environment globally, although it might take some time to get the majority of the population to not expect uniform and ‘perfect’ looking fruits and vegetables anymore.
As part of the movement, many smaller companies have started to sell their customers imperfect produce for a fraction of the price. Even some big supermarket chains in the US, Europe and Australia have set up separate displays in their produce sections for oddly sized or misshapen foods. Since under old circumstances these foods would have been thrown away, the lower prices do not hurt the farmers. Production costs are reduced, as is the carbon footprint, since the rejected produce mostly is shipped back to its place of origin.
Just as the Local Food movement, Ugly Food is a great way to start reducing greenhouse gasses and supporting local farming, as these new shopping habits are beginning to shape our communities and markets. Additionally we could argue that it goes hand-in-hand with Community Supported Agriculture, as less control by big conglomerate companies means less standardized food when it comes to the appearance of produce.
Although it is facing some criticism, in time the benefits of the Ugly Food movement surely will become more apparent. As a whole, one hopes that as it gains more traction and ‘ugly’ foods become more acceptable -even likable- by customers and retailers alike, the huge amount of food waste generated globally would begin to be reduced.
Knott, K. “Why we should eat ‘ugly’ food”, South China Post, 30 March 2020, https://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/food-drink/article/3077277/why-we-should-eat-ugly-food-it-helps-reduce-shocking-global/ Accessed 7 September 2020.
Mitchell, D. “Why People Are Falling in Love With Ugly Food”, Time Magazine, 27 March 2015, https://time.com/3761942/why-people-are-falling-in-love-with-ugly-food/ Accessed 7 September 2020
Mull, A. “The Murky Ethics of the Ugly-Produce Business” The Atlantic, 25 January 2019, https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2019/01/ugly-produce-startups-food-waste/581182/ Accessed 6 September 2020.
Taber, S. “Farms aren’t tossing perfectly good produce. You are.” Washington Post 8 March 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2019/03/08/feature/farms-arent-tossing-perfectly-good-produce-you-are/ Accessed 30 August 2020