The Ugly Side of Pretty Food

It is no secret that the United States wastes ton of food, 60 million of them every year to be exact. With the massive amounts of food being put into landfills every year, we are losing billions of dollars, wasting valuable natural resources and land, and generating substantial amounts of methane gas from landfill digestion. At the same time, there are millions of americans who are food insecure or do not have access to the nutritious food they need to live healthy lives. This discrepancy between food waste and hunger leads us to questions why are we wasting so much food? And what can we do to stop it?ti_graphics_food-waste-regions-map

A huge contributing factor to the volume of food waste in the United States is that in general food is cheaper in the US than in any other country in the world. This provides many benefits to the country as a whole, aiding farmers and helping all people to have access to affordable food. However, this has also allowed  a standard of perfectionism and obsession with the aesthetic quality of food to develop among restaurants, grocery stores and consumers as a whole.

With the low cost of food production, Americans have the luxury to choose only the perfect produce. Any fruits or vegetables that are bruised, wilted, discolored or misshaped are considered unacceptable by American shoppers and ultimately will be discarded by farmers and grocery stores. Estimates project that upwards of 25% of produce grown will never leave the farm. Much of this produce is left to rot because of small blemishes that would likely not affect the quality of the food, but would cause the produce to be rejected because of aesthetics. Over the past few years, there has been a substantial increase in our obsession with beautiful food. With an explosion in the promotion of food on social media, we are “eating with our eyes” more than ever.

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In 2015 the EPA decided to attack the issue of food waste head on. In alignment with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the US EPA and USDA announced its goal to reduce food waste in America by 50% by 2030. The EPA plans to work with leaders in the food system to to promote the sustainable management of food. However, it will not be without a fundamental shift in public perception of food waste and habits that the US will be able to reach its goal.

The EPA is not the only ones working towards less wasted food in the US. Companies like Imperfect Produce are embracing the funky fruits and veggies. Their subscription service delivers only the “ugly” produce in efforts to reduce the amount of produce that is wasted only because of how it physically looks. At UGA and other universities across the country the Campus Kitchens organization is recovering food from cafeterias, grocery stores and local farms that would otherwise be thrown away to cook and deliver meals to members of the community.

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General awareness of the issue of food waste and each person’s individual contribution is an important step in working to solve this issue. What are some ways that we can all work to reduce our personal food waste? What are ways the federal, state and local governments can help to address this issue?

Sources:

https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-11/documents/2014_smmfactsheet_508.pdf

https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/07/american-food-waste/491513/

https://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/09/dining/dishes-worthy-of-instagram-but-not-your-appetite.html?_r=0

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2017/05/30/why-americans-waste-so-much-food/355864001/

https://www.epa.gov/sustainable-management-food/united-states-2030-food-loss-and-waste-reduction-goal

http://www.campuskitchens.org/mission/

http://harvestpublicmedia.org/post/technology-infrastructure-minimize-food-waste-farm

 

 

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4 thoughts on “The Ugly Side of Pretty Food

  1. I know Kroger specifically puts on “clearance” the produce that is either close to its ‘sell-by’ date or is not in the best shape. I am not sure if other grocery stores also do this, but this might convince people to intentionally buy these products instead.
    I know I am guilty of never choosing to buy the imperfect produce, and I never linked that to being food waste. I do think I will be more aware of this issue after reading this, and I am sure many others would as well once they are notified of the problem at hand and the EPA’s goals.

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  2. Imperfect Produce seems like an awesome idea, although I don’t think it can make much of a dent in the large amount of food wasted. I would like to know what us done with all of the produce that never leaves the farm. I would like to think it is composted and used as a more sustainable type of fertilizer. On another hand, groceries stores and farmers ought to collaborate to try and develop a cheaper produce option, where the less aesthetically appealing groceries are put in stores at little cost, to both cause less waste and to provide a cheaper option to those less fortunate. It would be like a commercialized version of Imperfect Produce.
    Thanks for sharing!

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  3. Love this article, Melissa! I had the exact same thought as jasmine; I’ve also noticed the clearance fruit and veggies at Kroger and, unfortunately, walked away from it because it wasn’t appealing. Thinking about it after reading your post, I’m not sure why I would even care about the outside appearance of vegetables because they will just be cut up and cooked to look totally different anyway; I guess it is just the stigma of associating bruises and holes in fruits/veggies as being unhealthy. I have also come to know quite a few people who dumpster dive, and fruits and veggies seem to be the main target. My first questions were ‘why?’ and ‘aren’t you afraid there’s gross stuff on them?’, but every time the answer is always that ‘there’s nothing wrong with them, they just have to be thrown out by a certain date.’ The confusing thing is that dumpster divers often have confrontations with law enforcement, per demand of the grocery store but I think of them more as food waste vigilantes. Personally, I could never see myself going to the extreme such as dumpster diving, but I would like to try and be less picky of the fruits and veggies that I buy.

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  4. I had recently looked into https://www.hungryharvest.net/ It wasn’t available in the Athens area though. It’s a similar subscription service that sends a random assortment of fruits and vegetables that didn’t meet visual standards. I thought it was cool since it would force you to try new fruits and vegetables to cook with while also still being fairly cheap. I know tough visual standards cause a lot of food to go to waste as we sold our squash to the local grocery store one Summer, and anything they didn’t take we would eat. We ended up having lots of squash casserole and fried squash that year.

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