While it may not sound too appealing (no pun intended), the ugly fruit movement is flourishing in Europe. Intermarché, France’s third-largest supermarket chain, purchases unsightly fruits and vegetables—we’re talking pocked apples, three-tubered carrots, and lumpy potatoes that don’t meet most industry “quality” standards—and sells them to customers at a discount; the chain has even unveiled a line of juices and soups to attest to the produce’s flavor.
In 2013, a group of students in Germany launched the Ugly Fruits campaign to celebrate quirky produce with striking photography and snappy slogans. And Berlin catering company Culinary Misfits uses misshapen fruits and veggies exclusively to position the produce as art, not waste.
The trend can’t catch on soon enough here in the States. A 2012 report from the Natural Resources Defense Council notes that we toss more than 50 percent of the country’s fruits and vegetables each year. And according to a February 2014 study from the USDA, the estimated value of all food wasted in 2010 was $161.6 billion—or 141 trillion calories. While these amounts are staggering, they aren’t set in stone. We already swoon over heirloom tomatoes, and we pay a premium for them. We also have more and more farmers’ markets to choose from, where customers value local and organic over well-shaped and shiny.
But the best thing we can do? “Ask for it!” says Dana Gunders, a food-waste expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “If enough people e-mail their supermarket chains, companies will notice a trend. The power is in the hands of the consumers.”
Standard Issue In our industrialized food system, buyers can’t inspect each item themselves, notes Gunders. Standards are set by the USDA, as well as by specific food industries, so if a retailer orders two pallets of “extra fancy” apples, she knows what shape, size, and condition of fruit she’s getting. But no law or rule says retailers cannot order “lower” quality produce if they choose to—whether or not they do so mostly depends on what they believe consumers will buy.
Tip Use ugly fruits and veggies in dishes where their funny looks won’t matter, such as juices, smoothies, soups, and pies. Here are a few of our favorites: