More than 820 million people live on the brink of starvation, while 1 in 2 people is malnourished. At the same time, 20-40% of the world's fruit and vegetable production ends up in the trash every year because it does not meet the strict cosmetic standards of the market in terms of size, shape, or color.
The reasons? Plenty. Here, however, we will talk about one of them: Appearance! Yes, 1 in 5 of the world's fruits and vegetables make their way to the landfill. They are absolutely safe to eat and just as delicious and nutritious as the rest but…they wouldn't look good on the shelf.
This is the so-called "ugly produce". For some, it is another business model through which certain interests benefit. Some claim that there is no problem since these foods - in some cases - end up being fertilizers or animal feed. And there are those who say that "ugly produce cannot save the world."
Okay, agreed. Even if all this is true, there is no denying that thousands of tons of fruits and vegetables end up in the trash every year, while -at the same time- experts around the world sound the alarm about food insecurity and climate change – elements directly associated with food loss.
Profit may be the ultimate goal of excluding "ugly produce", but its (real) cost is much higher than one can imagine. The loss of "ugly produce" costs energy - human and non-human - and natural resources (soil, water, as well as seeds). In detail…
- 13 liters of water are needed to produce a single tomato and 50 liters of water to produce one orange.
- Nearly 910.000 tons (or 1 billion kilos!) of fertilizer are used to produce food that is never eaten.
- About 30 million acres of cropland and more than 15 trillion liters of water are used for agricultural production that ends up in the trash.
And yet, the number of foods sacrificed for uniformity and impeccable aesthetics is -really- inconceivable:
- 25-30% of the carrots produced worldwide fail to reach the shelves of a store purely for…aesthetic reasons.
- About 25% of apples, 20% of onions, and 13% of potatoes produced in the UK end up in the trash due to their appearance.
- 30-40% of fruits and vegetables produced in the USA per year are thrown away, often due to their appearance.
- 20-40% of fruits and vegetables produced in Australia do not make it to the market for aesthetic reasons.
- In Europe, 30% of fruits and vegetables never make it to store shelves because they do not meet the market’s criteria regarding appearance.
All these fruits and vegetables that end up in the trash, apart from their looks, they are exactly the same as those that successfully pass the strictest - and at the same time - unnecessary control. Really, who can single out the "beautiful" and the "ugly" tomato in a salad? Who can see the…crooked carrot in a soup and how will we make out the… deformed eggplant in a moussaka? Let’s stop looking. There are no differences. And if they exist, they are not what they seem. There may be differences in taste. In the valuable nutrients. These, however, have nothing to do with appearance, but with the fact that the crop and the production line may or may not have respected the rhythms of nature. What is the conclusion?
Embrace ugly produce. Keep the essence. It is up to us and OUR PLATE.
Food and Agriculture Organization
Global Nutrition Report 2014
The Chicago Council on Global Affairs
United Nations Environment Programme
The Washington Post
United States Department of Agriculture