The New ‘Ugly’ Apples Sold at 300 Walmart Locations Are More Than Perfect
Could learning to love a little imperfection in our fruits and veggies help us love the little imperfections in ourselves?
The burgeoning “ugly produce” movement got a big boost this week when Walmart announced it was launching a pilot program to sell less-than-perfect apples at 300 of its stores in Florida. Of course, when the country’s largest grocer decides to hop on the latest food-trend bandwagon—as Walmart did when it committed to expand its offerings of organic products or locally grown produce—it pushes said trend solidly into the mainstream.
There’s a lot of good to be said for championing fruits and vegetables that would never make their way into your favorite glossy food magazine. For starters, farms throw out a staggering amount of perfectly edible produce each year—some 20 percent of their harvest—just because those fruits and veggies don’t conform to retailers’ specifications for how produce should look. We’re talking about everything from crooked carrots to the weather-dented apples Walmart plans to sell. This, in turn, contributes mightily to America’s food-waste problem, which adds up to an estimated 40 percent of food rotting away in landfills.
Wasted food means wasted water, land, and agrochemicals. But beyond the outsize environmental benefits of cutting down on food waste, the move to sell more ugly produce stands to be mutually beneficial for consumers and retailers. Such produce is often sold at a (sometimes steep) discount, meaning better access to more affordable fruits and vegetables at a time when a nation in the grips of an obesity epidemic is being encouraged to fill half our plates each meal with produce. On the business side of the equation, it allows retailers to capitalize on produce that would not have made it onto the delivery dock.
Yet it must be said that retailers didn’t dream up those Miss Universe–style standards for perfect peaches and pears for no reason—which is also why Walmart’s embrace of ugly produce, as with similar moves by Whole Foods and a handful of regional grocery chains, so far has been confined to the testing phase. The big question: Will picky consumers buy in?
Here’s where the topic of bruised apples intersects with the larger one of our collective bruised egos. Among the more interesting non-food-related reads to cross my path this week was Heather Havrilesky’s trenchant takedown of the myth of the supremely self-assured millennial. Havrilesky is the advice-dispensing columnist behind “Ask Polly” over at New York magazine’s The Cut. Rather than being spoiled and entitled, as we so often hear, Havrilesky writes, “What I discover in my email in-box each morning are dispatches from young people who feel guilty and inadequate at every turn and who compare themselves relentlessly to others.” Let’s face it: It’s not just millennials. Anyone who spends any amount of time immersed in our digital-centric media-saturated culture can relate to what Havrilesky calls the “pervasive subconscious longing” that “tells us that no matter what our circumstances might be, we should be dressing like fashion bloggers and vacationing like celebrities and eating like food critics and [having sex] like porn stars.”
In other words, we’re bombarded by images of a certain kind of perfection, often artificially generated to appeal to our innermost desires but simultaneously leaving us feeling unsatisfied, left out, and wanting. Whatever satisfaction might be had by finding the “perfect” anything is often eclipsed by the nagging thought that there might just be something more perfect to be found. Just think of shoppers endlessly rooting around in a bin of peaches searching for the most picture-perfect, perfectly ripe peach.
In that context, that Walmart’s damaged apples will be sold under an “I’m Perfect” label becomes kind of profound, as if we might all do well to take that little produce sticker and wear it proud, like preschoolers donning those Chiquita stickers from their breakfast bananas. When we do, we should keep Havrilesky’s prescription in mind: “The best version of you is who you are right here, right now, in this fucked-up, impatient, imperfect, sublime moment. Shut out the noise and enjoy exactly who you are and what you have, right here, right now.” If that’s while you’re savoring the sweet deliciousness of a weather-beaten apple, so much the better.