According to The Food and Agriculture Organization, we waste 1.3 billion tons of food each year. Research reveals that the bins of most households are filled with rotten foods and food waste. But what about those that weren’t spoiled and in perfectly excellent condition? Though the exact numbers aren’t yet known, thousands of fruits and veggies are thrown away just because they lack the ‘aesthetic appeal.’
Interestingly, we expect to be greeted by shiny, uniform shaped produce—fruits and vegetables that look precisely like supermodels! Often ‘supposedly dreadful’ delicious and nutritious veggies and fruits aren’t accepted by supermarkets. In fact, farmers do away with them only because their skin is slightly blemished, they have scabs, or have an unusual shape.
These stats are especially saddening when you note that the United Nations has estimated that one in nine people around the world don’t have access to adequate food. What’s worse is that more and more people are dying from hunger every day. Though diseases like AIDs and malaria still prevail, food waste is at its highest and nearly 1/3 of the food that is being produced is thrown away. This means we aren’t just wasting food, but also other resources like land, water, and soil that were used to grow and nurture it.
However, there’s still light at the end of the tunnel because for the last two years, supermarkets throughout North America and Europe are running campaigns where they sell ‘ugly’ produce and even encourage people to buy it. But before we get into that, let’s take a brief look at the consequences of wasting so much food in the first place.
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Implications of Wasting Food
Produced but uneaten food takes almost 1.4 billion hectares of land, which is around 30 percent of the world’s total agricultural land. Fifty-two percent of the wastage occurs even before it is processed, distributed, or consumed. This means that a lot of the fruits and vegetables are thrown out during production and post-harvest handling. And the biggest reason for this is because the food isn’t “pretty enough.”
Loss of Biodiversity
Farming and agriculture take up a lot of land. But because the earth is only so big, farmers are now looking to maximize their agricultural land. They’re doing this by invading wild areas, which are more fertile, and this, in turn, leads to lost biodiversity. To find more fertile land, practices such as deforestation are destroying the habitats of mammals, fish, and birds. Use of pesticides for crop production has also significantly contributed to chemical pollution in water and the atmosphere.
Heightened Carbon Footprint
Food wastage has been found to be the third top greenhouse gas emitter after the United States and China. The food that is produced but not eaten has a carbon footprint of around 3.3 billion tons. The food waste that fills American landfills is a significant source of methane, which is 21 percent more likely to cause global warming as compared to carbon.
Twenty-five percent of all freshwater is being used to produce the food that is being grown and then thrown out. The blue water footprint of wasted food comes up to around 250 cubic kilometers—equivalent to the water discharge of Russia’s Volga River.
Why You Should Embrace Ugly Produce
After all these statistics and findings, it only makes sense to stop wasting food by not consuming perfectly good food. But what are the benefits of doing this? Here’s a list of reasons why you should seriously start thinking about buying those bags of ugly produce.
You Can Save Money
To decrease food wastage and encourage buyers to buy imperfect vegetables and fruits, local and large supermarket chains are offering discounted rates. So, if you were initially purchasing a bag of oranges for $4.00, you can now buy one with slightly blemished oranges for as low as $2.00. This way, you won’t just be saving food, but also your hard-earned money.
You Can Boost Nutrition
Contrary to common belief, fruits and vegetables that have scabs or bumps on them aren’t spoiled, but instead are filled with antioxidants. According to research, ugly apples have been found to possess a sweeter taste and have higher antioxidant content as compared to others. The researcher behind the experiment believes that this is because of stress and the apple’s defense mechanism.
When non-organic vegetables are sprayed with pesticides or other chemical compounds, they don’t need to fight things off on their own, thus there’s much less production of antioxidants. So, if you want to get the best nutritional food, opt for that ugly produce.
You Can Contribute to the Environment
It may not seem like much because you’re the only one who is buying this ugly produce, but the truth is that you’ll be contributing to saving the environment. Besides, the word is now getting out quicker than ever about food waste and its consequences, so more and more people are joining the bandwagon. Buying produce that was initially thrown out will make you feel good about what you’re doing because you’ll know that you’re doing a good thing.
What More Can You Do
There's a lot that you can do other than buying deformed vegetables and fruits to slow down the vicious cycle food wastage. Here are a few things you can get started with.
Avoid Over Shopping
One of the biggest reasons so much food is being wasted is because we’re buying more than we need. Though this might seem like a simple problem to tackle, the truth is that it’s a lot harder than it sounds. The best way to shop smart is to make a list of items that you actually need. Instead of buying produce to last two weeks, only purchase the items you need for a week. If you don’t plan to cook for 2 or 3 days, buy limited quantities. Simply put, instead of buying a lot at once and letting it go rotten in the crisper, opt for a lesser amount of fruits and veggies you’ll actually use.
Don’t Fill Up the Plate
It’s happening everywhere around the world; we’re taking too much food on our plates and then throwing it away. It’s not just restaurants that throw away tons of uneaten food, but households as well. So, once you’ve made it a point not to buy too much food, you also need to be careful about serving size. If you have a family, urge them to take smaller portions so you can store the leftovers and have them at another time.
Know Where to Store
Not every fruit or vegetable belongs in the fridge. There are plenty that will stay fresh if they’re kept outside the crisper and in a favorable temperature. So, don’t just stash everything in the fridge, but be mindful of where they should be ideally stored.
The best way to reduce your food waste is to get into composting. If you’ve used the peels to make a stock, don’t just throw them away but turn them into a nutrient-rich fertilizer. However, remember that you don’t necessarily need a composting bin because there’re a lot of other simple techniques to compost, as well.
According to the USDA, food waste is the single biggest source of waste in municipal landfills and a major contributor of methane (a greenhouse gas). It is a real problem and not consuming ugly produce is a substantial contributing factor that can be brought to a stop if the right steps are taken. Perhaps the best thing to do at this point is to start reintroducing the ugly produce into the consumer market.