Eating Ugly: Fruit and Vegetables Aren’t Beauty Contestants

Visual appearance aside, they’re all the same on the inside.

Limit your food waste by not judging fruits and vegetables by their appearance (Photo: Flickr/Glenn Dettwiler)

Feb 27, 2013· 1 MIN READ
Paige Brettingen is a journalist living in Boulder, Colo., who writes about the environment and how we can treat it better. She has an M.A. in journalism from USC and a B.A. from Northwestern University.

Those mutant carrots might look like a funky science experiment gone awry, and the shape of that tomato may be anything but round. But doesn’t aesthetically challenged produce deserve the same status as a source of food as its prettier counterparts?

The answer is yes, and the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) is on a mission to spread the news.

As part of the “Think.Eat.Save. Reduce Your Foodprint” initiative, the UNEP is determined to reduce food waste through encouraging supermarket buyers and consumers to stop judging food based on appearances.

“It’s a scandal that so much food is wasted in a country with millions of hungry people,” said Tristam Stuart, food waste author and founder of Feeding the 5000 who is working on the campaign. “The waste of perfectly edible ‘ugly’ vegetables is endemic in our food production systems and symbolizes our negligence.”
 According to Stuart, supermarket rejection of produce due to cosmetic reasons causes Kenyan farmers to waste 40 percent of their harvest.

Consumer food waste soon follows. A study released last month by the British Institution of Mechanical Engineers estimates that between 30 and 50 percent of food produced in the world is wasted. According to the the Think.Eat.Save Campaign, the total quantity of wasted food would be sufficient to feed the estimated 900 million people hungry in the world.

TakePart previously reported that the UNEP called upon the U.S. last month to join in the campaign. No big surprise there: Americans waste 150 billion pounds of food (worth $240 billion) a year—enough to fill the Rose Bowl to the brim every day.

In addition to approaching produce with a more open mind, the UNEP also encourages reusing leftovers, asking for doggie bags and being aware of grocery store marketing gimmicks that get us to buy more food than we'll use.

Besides campaigning, the UNEP is also eating what it’s preaching. Its reception last week for the UNEP Governing Council in Nairobi, Kenya, featured dishes made from 3,500 pounds of Kenyan fruits and vegetables that were rejected for cosmetic reasons by U.K. supermarkets. The remaining food was then donated to local charities, including a community-based organization that runs a school with a meal program that feeds 580 Nairobi children.