We have a massive food waste problem in this country. A whopping 40% of our food supply is wasted every year. Food gets thrown into the trash at all points in the food chain: before it reaches the grocery store, after sitting on grocery shelves for too long, and once it has rotted in our fridges. According to a study about food waste in 2020, the average American family of four throws out $1,600 a year in produce.
And while there are many facets to this problem, there is one simple way that players at every step in the food chain can reduce food waste. Eating ugly. Our society has an image obsession when it comes to our fruits and vegetables. We want our apples perfectly red and round, our carrots long and lean, and our peppers shiny. So when imperfect produce comes off the field, farmers throw it out knowing that grocery stores will not accept it. Or customers avoid imperfect produce in the stores, leaving them destined for the dump.
Oftentimes, the more perfect the produce, the worse the taste. Breeders select for perfect appearances and long shelf lives so that food can be shipped across the country and still look good for days after arriving at a store. This comes at the cost of taste. It is no wonder so many people dislike vegetables when the most commonly available produce lacks flavor.
Here at the Chesterhill Produce Auction, we embrace produce of all shapes and sizes. Every item of produce that comes from nearby farms gets sold and well-used. We’ll take a misshapen and delicious heirloom tomato over a perfectly round and watery tomato any day. Here are some photos of our favorite “ugly” fruits and vegetables from the the last two seasons. We’d love to see yours!
Molly Sowash is a national service AmeriCorps member with Rural Action‘s Sustainable Agriculture team. You’ll find her at the Chesterhill Produce Auction loading produce, checking customers out, or making friends with the livestock. She studied Creative Writing at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN and lived in Minneapolis for three years before returning to her roots in Ohio.