Sanitation Worker Challenges Whole Foods and Walmart to Stop Trashing Produce

Bay Area resident Jordan Figueiredo is asking the companies to put imperfect fruits and veggies on store shelves.

(Photo: UglyFruitandVeg/Instagram)

Jul 17, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

A bunch of gnarled carrots or an apple that’s not perfectly round and rosy are just as nutritious as produce that isn’t misshapen, but that doesn’t stop the nation’s grocery stores from consigning so-called ugly fruits and veggies to the trash. And perhaps no one sees the magnitude of wasted food more than someone who deals with garbage for a living.

That’s why Jordan Figueiredo, a 36-year-old solid waste specialist for the Castro Valley Sanitary District in California, is challenging Walmart and Whole Foods to start carrying imperfect produce in their stores. He’s teamed up with Stefanie Sacks, a New York–based culinary nutritionist and author of the book What the Fork Are You Eating?, on a petition that calls for both retailers to start selling ugly fruits and vegetables.

“I work with the community to reduce waste, and upon learning more about the massive impacts of food waste I was compelled to do much more than just encourage people to compost—what most local programs focus on,” says Figueiredo.

Because the American public has been trained to turn up its collective nose at produce with lumps, bumps, and other imperfections, the petition is asking Walmart and Whole Foods to launch a campaign promoting “uglies,” similar to what French supermarket chain Intermarché did in 2014.

Through its “inglorious fruits and vegetables” campaign, the French grocer turned a profit selling unattractive produce at a discount. Intermarché marketed the produce to consumers with clever names such as the “hideous orange” and offered free taste-testing events in its stores. To that end, Figueiredo’s petition is asking Whole Foods and Walmart to sell ugly produce at a 30 to 50 percent discount and advertise the items in a similar fashion.

In Europe, “people have loved this and really like this produce, and I think customers in the U.S. will respond the same way,” says Figueiredo. “A good campaign that speaks to the freshness, the great taste, endearing looks, environmental benefits, and cost discount of ugly produce will do very well here.”

So, Why Should You Care? According to a 2014 report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, roughly one-third of all food produced today—about 1.7 billion tons—is lost or wasted along the food chain. “It’s insane we’re wasting as much as 20 to 40 percent of all produce worldwide before it even hits the store,” says Figueiredo. Even after we buy it, Americans end up throwing away about half of their food, which could go toward feeding the 20 percent of kids in the United States who go to bed hungry every night.

There are environmental concerns that could be alleviated by eliminating food waste too. The petition notes that if Walmart and Whole Foods were to make the shift, it could help conserve water, because 80 percent of H2O goes to growing crops. It could also help “ease climate change, as our food system is responsible for 13 percent of our human-made greenhouse gas emissions,” according to the petition.

RELATED: People Need to Rearrange Their Priorities When It Comes to Food Waste

“This is truly low-hanging fruit when it comes to environmental and social benefits of preventing food waste and increasing access to cheaper but tasty and healthy produce,” says Figueiredo. “Food is tied to so many things, such as water, energy, land use, emissions. We just cannot afford to pass up this massive opportunity to prevent waste at the farm.”

The petition launched on Monday and has nearly 200 signatures so far. It has also garnered support in the food community. Chef Mario Batali tweeted it on Friday to his 752,000 followers.

Figueiredo hasn’t heard from Walmart or Whole Foods about whether they’d be open to making the shift to selling ugly produce, but he doesn’t think it would be too difficult for the two companies to put imperfect apples, oranges, pears, and carrots on store shelves. “It’s more of the ‘new way of doing business’ that is the biggest hurdle,” he says. But if the companies are willing to get on board, it could help foster a generation of Americans who don’t think twice about buying lumpy, bumpy items.