The hard life of cosmetically challenged produce

Cosmetically challenged carrot

Being a veggie or fruit can be very tough. You might be a tasty, juicy tomato, perfect for an authentic Italian pasta recipe with fresh ingredients but still, you don’t manage to reach the shelves of a supermarket. Or, you might be a sweet strawberry, looking forward to landing on an amazing homemade soft creamy pie but instead, you end up in a landfill. Why? Because you are considered to be ugly, because your life is affected by high aesthetic standards.

Every year, in North America, six billion pounds of fruits and vegetables go to waste on farms simply due to their physical appearance. In the US, the aesthetic criteria are established by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the supermarkets themselves. According to USDA, in order for a carrot to make it to the shelves of a traditional retail outlet, it shouldn’t have a diameter less than two centimeters. A potato should be “fairly well shaped” and a tomato should be “fairly well formed and smooth”. But what does “fairly well shaped” exactly mean? These descriptions are vague and create an opportunity for different further interpretations. What is also interesting to point out is that although the USDA guidelines are voluntary, it is still the groceries that prefer keeping high expectations of how their fruit and veggies should look.

The life for misshapen vegetables and fruit is not easier in Europe where it is the European norms that set the standards. Some steps forward have been taken in 2008 when the European Commission has killed off the regulations on the shape and size of 26 types of fruit and vegetables. Among these: asparagus, cucumbers, carrots, plums, etc. For those, the European retailers are free to choose regardless of their appearance. Nevertheless, for ten types of fruit and vegetables, among which there are apples, strawberries, tomatoes, kiwis and peaches, the shape standards still apply.

Producing food that no one will eat means squandering a lot of resources, from water to seeds but also fuel and fertilizers. According to National GeographicNational Geographic, at a global level, every year the production of uneaten food consumes as much water as the entire annual flow of the longest European river, the Volga.

Luckily, lately some interesting initiatives have arisen to give a chance to the “ugly” fruit and veggies to make it to the supermarket shelters. An example is the American grocery chain Giant Eagle, which few weeks ago as launched the program “Produce With a Personality” to sell misshapen but equally tasty potatoes, oranges, and apples at a lower price. This initiative will be a great chance for customers to indicate that they are willing to buy oddly shaped fruit and veggies.

Remember, cosmetically challenged produce is just as delicious and nutritious as the perfect shaped produce! Let’s fight food waste together!

Alice Moretti

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