Here’s a shocking statistic. 20-40% of all produce grown in the UK goes to waste each year. Not because of poor weather or disease, but simply because it doesn’t look “good enough” to be sold in major supermarkets. Beliefs that customers won’t buy knobbly potatoes or discoloured tomatoes lead to vigourous quality control checks which see approximately 90,000 tons of British-grown produce sent straight to landfill. But with quality food being such a precious commodity, it’s time the question was asked, is there anyone out there who will love our ugly fruit and vegetables?
The good news is that yes, there are. While some act out of environmental awareness and a passion for local produce, others act out of necessity. The truth is that misshapen fruits and vegetables are unavoidable. Tomatoes can grow in all shades of orange, yellow, green and even purple. Carrots, parsnips and other root vegetables can grow numerous points, giving them the appearance of “legs”, and of course, any organic produce runs the risk of tiny insect bites covering its leaves or stalks.
A cold spring this year means that more produce is being harvested with these “abnormalities”, meaning a greater acceptance of these unusual fruits and vegetables is needed. As a result, supermarkets are having to compromise and accept a wider range of produce this year in order to keep up with customer demand. Their decision may not be made for environmental reasons, but gradually introducing the customer base of major supermarkets to more unusual-looking produce can be a step in the right direction for helping people to become accustomed to “ugly” yet perfectly edible food- particularly if it helps to keep costs down.
While some supermarkets may be reluctantly accepting some of nature’s more unusual produce, others are pledging to make the change in order to keep food waste to a minimum and try to reverse the environmental damage caused by years worth of rejection of perfectly good food. As of Sainsbury’s have vowed to accept 100% of all British-grown produce to sell in their supermarkets. Steps like this are needed in order to gradually change the public’s perception of ugly fruit and vegetables.
The customer’s view of fruit and vegetables is one of the most important factors in reducing the waste of our “ugly” vegetables. Supermarkets spend millions of pounds on researching the importance of visual features in their shops to encourage customers to spend more money. Everything from signage to shop layout can play a part in where and how a customer spends their money, and their perception of a product’s appearance is crucial. But while perceptions won’t change over strange-looking fruit and vegetables overnight, a gradual change is certainly possible if seeing bulging strawberries or wonky carrots on your weekly shop becomes more and more common.
Ugly Fruits Campaign
One movement hoping to make unusual produce feel a bit more loved is the “Ugly Fruits” campaign, based in Germany and started by three students with a passion for reducing unnecessary food wastage. Ugly Fruits draws attention to the quirky and unique side of fruits and vegetables, showing that being unusually shaped can be appealing rather than repulsive. Clever videos show an arty side to some of the funniest and most bizarre-looking fruits that nature throws up. They, along with the whole website, show “ugly” fruits in a new light- well photographed and vibrant against a white backdrop, not sitting at the bottom of a dirty supermarket pallet, rejected for their odd looks.
Projects such as Ugly Fruits are playing an important role in helping the world become more accustomed to unusual-looking produce. Once all shapes and sizes of fruit and vegetables becomes the norm, buying trends should start to pick up, and wastage can hopefully start to decrease.
The problem of wastage amongst ugly fruit and vegetables isn’t only restricted to fresh produce. Many food processing companies have a strict set of standards that produce must adhere to for them to use it in their products- unbelievable considering customers will only see the finished product, not the produce that goes into it! Culinary Misfits, a Berlin-based catering company are hoping to change this, and contact farms specifically to purchase their unwanted “ugly” vegetables. The business has boomed, receiving attention from food lovers and environmentalists alike, serving quality food whilst minimizing food waste in the surrounding area. They hope to open a restaurant soon, to continue their work with unwanted produce, allowing them to spread their message further.
What can we do?
While the UK may be a few steps behind Germany in terms of loving our “ugly” fruit and veg, there are plenty of steps which we can all take to help reduce wastage of perfectly good quality food:
Be less picky with the fruits and vegetables you choose. After using them, you’ll realise that there really is no difference in taste, texture or preparation time.
Vote with your wallet. One of the best ways to voice your opinion to supermarkets is through your spending. If a supermarket sells ugly fruit and vegetables, show that it is still in demand by purchasing it. If a supermarket refuses to sell anything but perfect produce, take your business elsewhere.
Support local farmer’s markets which sell unusual fruit and vegetables. Being on a smaller scale, they suffer more if their “ugly” produce doesn’t sell.
Once you are happily using fruit and vegetables of all shapes and sizes, show any sceptical family and friends that there really is nothing to worry about. Try holding a dinner party where all your fresh produce is as unusual as possible- it’ll add a unique twist to the evening whilst showing that unusual produce can still taste delicious.
Image sourced: Jason Rucktagsfruit and vegetablesorganic food