If you’ve ever indulged in a bag of carrots, there’s a good chance you know what I’m talking about. “The ugly carrot”: misshapen, slightly discolored, possibly scarred, standing out in a sea of pristine orange. The appearance sets it apart from the rest and often causes people to deem it inedible and throw it away. Sure, I’ll admit that I’ve done exactly that on multiple occasions, but I’ll also admit that I am a part of the problem.
The issue doesn’t stop with carrots; bulging apples, scarred oranges and too-small bananas go to waste all too often because they don’t meet our aesthetic standards for produce. In 2016, it was estimated that 50 percent of all produce grown in the U.S., the equivalent of $160 billion, is thrown away, according to The Atlantic. Fruits and vegetables stand at the top of the list for most wasted foods. With these numbers, it would seem as though we have some sort of food excess, but with one in six people in this country considered to be food insecure, that isn’t the case.
Food waste’s impact doesn’t just stop at the social level – it’s environmental as well. Decomposing in the world’s landfills, food waste creates large amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide. There are also issues of water, labor and land lost when food gets thrown away.
Of course, there are a number of factors contributing to the large amount of food that goes to waste. Mistakes made in processing, transport, handling and food not getting purchased before the expiration date all play a part in the issue. However, a large portion of the blame can be placed on our high standards when it comes to the attractiveness of food.
It’s not surprising. We’ve grown up in a world of pristine white Wonder bread and smoothie bowls that are manufactured to fit an Instagram aesthetic. The bruised apples and ugly carrots just don’t make the cut.
However, it’s not just the consumers at fault. Certain government regulations and supermarkets’ superficial standards keep these “ugly” produce items from ever hitting the shelves.
This is where we need to find a solution. By buying more of these ugly produce items, supermarkets will take notice, cater to demand and start adding them to their lineup.
Now, you may be asking, “If they’re not selling this ugly produce in most grocery stores, then where can I get it?” Start at farmers markets. They’re not confined to the same regulations and standards as most grocery stores, so they’re more likely to sell these misshapen fruits and vegetables. Or buy straight from a farmer using a local community-supported agriculture program. Shop at stores that have already introduced ugly fruits and vegetables into their produce sections, like Wal-Mart or Whole Foods. As an added benefit, these places will often sell this imperfect produce for a discount.
So buy the discolored orange, the blemished lemon and the weathered apple, because you just might find a new beauty in its unique and asymmetrical form. And next time you find that ugly carrot, eat it, because, while it might not be Instagram worthy, chances are it’s perfectly edible.