When we think about unrealistic beauty standards, produce probably isn't the first thing that comes to mind. But let's face it: We all judge our produce based on appearances. Why pick up the misshapen apple when you can find a perfectly round one, right?
Clearly, this is how retailers think too: Twenty percent of fruits and vegetables grown on farms in the U.S. each year don't fit grocery stores' strict cosmetic standards. To be clear, these cosmetically 'imperfect' fruits and veggies—think: a curvy carrot or oddly shaped tomato—taste the same on the inside (more on that here: 8 "Ugly" Nutrient-Packed Fruits and Vegetables) yet, they end up in landfills, contributing to a massive food-waste problem. An estimated 133 billion pounds of food is wasted each year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency.
But now, all that delicious yet too-small, too-curvy, or otherwise wonky-looking produce is having its moment in the spotlight. Whole Foods has announced a pilot project with Imperfect Produce—a California-based start-up that sources this 'cosmetically-challenged produce' from farms and delivers to customers at discounted prices—to test sales of less-than-perfect produce in a handful of stores in Northern California beginning next month. According to NPR, the decision was prompted by Change.org petition from EndFoodWaste.org that pressured Whole Foods to #GiveUglyATry.
Imperfect Produce works to reduce the food waste issue in the U.S. while generating extra revenue for farmers and making produce that would otherwise be rejected for purely cosmetic reasons available to families at a more affordable price. (Speaking of waste, see 8 Hacks to Make Healthy Foods Last Longer.)
While Whole Foods says they already use 'ugly' produce in their prepared foods, juices, and smoothies, this is still a huge step for a national grocery chain. The only other large supermarket chain in the U.S. to sell imperfect produce is Giant Eagle, who announced last week that they will start selling ugly fruits and veggies thanks to their new Produce with Personality program in five of their Pittsburgh-area stores.
"Whether you call them surplus, excess, seconds, or just plain ugly, these are fruits and vegetables that may face rejection because they're not considered perfect-looking," Giant Eagle spokesperson Daniel Donovan told NPR. "But it's the taste that matters." We second that.
And perhaps most importantly: We're pretty sure we could get over the looks if it came with major savings at the cash register. Because quality produce ain't cheap. With any luck, this might help Whole Foods lose their 'Whole Paycheck' rep. Until that day comes, make sure you read up on 6 Ways to Save Money On (And Stop Wasting!) Groceries.