Why Do We Demand Unnatural Food?

Posted on March 3, 2016

When we go grocery shopping, our natural instinct is to shop with our eyes. Food is beautiful – and produce is one of the first items you see upon walking into a supermarket. I’m often struck by how perfect the fruits and vegetables look in our markets. After all, that’s what consumers have come to expect. But what happens to the apples that aren’t perfectly round, or the carrots that aren’t perfectly long?

NatGeo cover

I had a chance to read this compelling article in the March issue of National Geographic, highlighting the need to embrace “ugly” food – which can help feed the hungry with big dividends for the environment.

In National Geographic’s March issue, an article touched upon the way we treat our fruits and vegetables, and how they are lost or wasted at higher rates than other foods. Much of this loss and waste occurs in developing countries at the production and distribution level, largely due to an underdeveloped cold chain. However, in developed countries, there’s another way in which these foods are wasted.

According to the article, in the U.S. approximately six billion pounds of fruits and vegetables go unharvested or unsold every year – often for aesthetic reasons. This means that good and nutritious food goes to waste because it isn’t perfectly shaped, or “ugly.” Much of this, the article says, is due to consumer expectations of how ideal produce should look.

We have a romantic notion for the perfect look to our food, yet nature is nature and provides natural variation to all that we grow. No two people are perfectly alike, and neither are apples or any other produce for that matter.

Yet we have evolved to demand our produce to look uniform and perfect – something that is actually quite unnatural.

Most of this food is discarded, which means it’s not being used to help feed the approximately 800 million people around the world who go hungry every day, including nearly 50 million in the U.S. Throwing away imperfect produce also contributes to the overall carbon footprint of food waste, now quantified at 3.6 gigatons of CO2. Luckily, there are organizations like DC Central Kitchen that salvage imperfect food to feed the hungry, but we’ll need more to join them.

As consumers, we can help with this problem. We can do our own part by embracing all fruits and vegetables – whether perfect, imperfect or ugly. This doesn’t mean sacrificing food safety, but recognizing that the oddly shaped vegetable is in fact safe, nutritious and delicious to eat. The cover of the March National Geographic edition offers no better examples. When we can appreciate all food, we can help feed more people with measurable benefits for the environment.

You can read the full article here: How ‘Ugly’ Fruits and Vegetables Can Help Solve World Hunger.

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