Help End World Hunger: Eat Ugly Vegetables
Like many other pressing global issues, world hunger is such a colossal obstacle that it often feels unlikely we will ever come to a solution. To compensate for the lack of food, society has turned to technology as a beacon of hope. But what we neglect is the fact that we may already be producing enough food to feed the 800 million starving people on the planet — we just dispose half of it.
What most of the world doesn’t know is that farmers discard an extremely high amount of their crops solely for cosmetic reasons; that is, if a fruit does not match the nearly unattainable and perfect image of a fruit or vegetable that consumers and markets demand, it gets tossed in the gutter. Even if the quality, taste, or ripeness are up to par, a fruit or vegetable that does not look appealing will never be permitted to reach shelves in supermarkets.
In the US alone, nearly one third of our crops are discarded for cosmetic reasons; that’s about $160 billion worth of food in the drain. But it’s not just the United States — Australia wastes $10 billion worth of food every year, and in the world as a whole, 2.9 trillion pounds of food will never be consumed.
From my perspective, the problem here is not the farmers throwing away the produce, but the markets — and us, the consumers. Through their relentless efforts to boost themselves ahead of their competitors, supermarkets have idealized their products to such a degree that it has become nearly impossible for farmers to meet their standards. Pictures of glistening citrusy oranges with consummate spherical shapes, flowery snow-white cauliflower, and long bright yellow bananas have stormed the walls and brochures of grocery stores all around the world. Supermarkets want to advertise themselves as “the store that sells only perfect fruit”; this in turn has trained us to buy only perfect fruit, because we have been led to believe that fruit that does not look a certain way is of inferior quality, and does not taste as good as the advertized ideal image.
We as a society need to optimize our food production processes; doing so will benefit more than just world hunger — it will have substantial positive effects on the environment as well. Not only are the fruits and vegetables themselves wasted when farmers toss them out, but the water, land, fertilizer, chemicals, and other resources that go into the growing process are wasted as well. What’s more, when the imperfect produce — or “ugly vegetables” — get tossed away, they are sent to landfills where they eventually turn into methane, one of the most hazardous greenhouse gases for the environment. (Yes, worse than carbon dioxide!) Food waste is responsible for more global climate pollution than Russia or India: about 8%. And as National Geographic puts it, “If food waste were a country, it would be the third largest producer of greenhouse gases in the world, after China and the U.S."
So what do we do?
We campaign. France has already stepped up their game by creating a campaign called Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables, in which separate aisles are created in select supermarkets to sell only “ugly” produce at a 30% lower price. In order to show consumers that they can trust the quality of these less appealing fruits and vegetables, the campaigners also came out with products made from the produce like juices, smoothies, and soups. The Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables campaign was a huge success, and Radio National states that the only problem this campaign encountered was selling out of produce within just a few days! Ugly vegetables were a hit, and I see no reason why they can’t be a hit all around the world as well.
We are spending unfathomable amounts of time and money on inventing new technology that will solve world hunger, when we are completely ignoring a problem that comes from the root -- a problem we could easily solve with a little bit of communication and campaigning.
In order to get this movement started, try pioneering your own “ugly vegetable” campaign in your neighborhood, or simply buy more produce that does not look perfect, but is still of adequate quality. With a little bit of initiative, we could save unbelievable amounts of food and money -- making our way closer and closer to producing enough food to feed every mouth in every corner of the world.