An online social media campaign, found via Twitter under the clever name @UglyFruitAndVeg, posts pictures of imperfect produce in all their glory, and invites followers to do the same. The pictures are silly and whimsical, but the purpose of the campaign is anything but frivolous. The campaign’s creator, Jordan Figueiredo, is a food waste advocate, and he believes we can help end food waste, ease world hunger and help the environment – one ugly vegetable at a time.
Figueiredo believes getting people to embrace, rather than shun, less-than-perfect fruit and vegetables is one big step in the right direction to reduce overall food waste. “I was really getting involved with food waste, co-chairing the Zero Food Waste Forum and managing the Feeding the 5000 Oakland, and I realized ugly was the biggest issue that hardly anyone knew anything about," Figueiredo says. "Such a low-hanging fruit answered a lot of problems.”
It's been reported that as much as 40 percent of perfectly fresh, nutritious produce is simply wasted – due to being less than aesthetically pleasing. Large grocery stores, in particular, are more reluctant to stock unattractive produce, because of consumer demand for uniform, pretty fruits and vegetables. Cutting down on food waste worldwide has been one of the essential tactics called for by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization to help ease world hunger. Wasted food usually ends up in our landfills, and it contributes significantly to methane production, which is a greenhouse gas.
Of course, one person can feel quite small in the fight against worldwide food waste. But focusing on a few small changes in our homes can mean a big difference at the landfill. Reducing food waste in the home can also save you money. A typical American household ends up tossing about $1,500 worth of food every year! Here are some things you can do to help reduce food waste:
Keep FIFO alive. FIFO stands for “First In, First Out,” and it's a useful inventory tool used to reduce food waste. Sarah Krieger, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says getting into the habit of rotating items in your refrigerator daily – so you put first-in items up front to be used right away – can help reduce food waste tremendously. “FIFO helps prevent food from getting pushed in the back of the fridge where we ‘forget’ because we can’t see it,” she explains.
Take stock. About one-third of Americans admit to never or rarely checking their home food inventory before going grocery shopping. This is especially problematic for perishable items, which are less likely to be eaten before going bad. Taking just a few minutes to note what you have at home can be time very well spent, as it can literally save money in the long run.
Store strategically. The vegetable bin can be the land of forgotten food, unfortunately. Krieger recommends placing fresh produce strategically at eye level in your refrigerator, so you remember to use it up while it's still fresh.
Don’t buy it. Have regular occasions where your household uses up inventory, rather than restocking. This is easier to do if your refrigerator and freezer are not bursting with new products – try to see how barren you can get before needing to head out to restock. When it’s time to restock, it’s best to have a plan first, so you only buy the amount of food that will likely be consumed before it spoils.
Embrace the wonky vegetables. Join the ugly vegetable movement to add fuel to the already growing fire. As consumers become more comfortable with cosmetically imperfect fruits and vegetables, less produce will be turned away by grocers. Support local farmer’s markets or small grocers that already sell uniquely imperfect produce, and encourage larger chains to join the trend. Check out the ugly vegetable resources on EndFoodWaste.org.