Have you heard about the “Ugly Food” movement?
Think gnarly carrots and parsnips with multiple tips, dented apples, and pears, wrinkly tomatoes, leopard spotted bananas, potatoes with not so smooth terrains, strangely curved cucumbers, and the list goes on and on.
“Ugly food” is the term given to foods that are rejected by grocery stores, consumers, and restaurants because they may be misshapen, bruised, blemished, uncharacteristically large or small, or unsightly for any number of other reasons. Basically, they don’t meet grocery store, eatery or consumer standards. Many are discarded before even making their way into the food system, and this, of course, adds to the global problem of food waste.
Food waste is generated on the farm, in the market, in the home, and in restaurants. We have been conditioned to believe that only “pretty” produce is tasty and nutritious and we turn our noses up to anything less, assuming that it is of lesser quality.
We pick through bins of produce looking for those pieces that could model for publications such as Bon Appetit or Food and Wine, forgetting, or perhaps not realizing, that food stylists have handled these luscious supermodels during the photoshoot. Lighting, framing, and presentation can make the most boring morsel look simply stunning!
Approximately one-third of food produced worldwide is lost or wasted during production or marketing, and close to 50% of food purchased in the United States is scrapped. This is not only economically upsetting but environmentally as well!
When food is tossed, it ends up in the garbage where it decomposes and releases methane. According to the EPA, “Methane is the second most abundant anthropogenic GHG after carbon dioxide (CO2), accounting for about 20 percent of global emissions. Methane is more than 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere.” High concentrations of methane can also have negative health effects and may cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and unconsciousness.
According to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, on the whole, we reject and throw out enough food annually to fill more than 40 skyscrapers. That’s outrageous!
A 2014 report issued by the USDA revealed, “31 percent—or 133 billion pounds—of the 430 billion pounds of the available food supply at the retail and consumer levels in 2010 went uneaten,” and this translates to approximately $161 billion dollars worth of food!
In 2014, in an effort to reduce food waste, Europe initiated a campaign to actively market these so-called “ugly foods” rather than discarding them. This trend has recently made its way into the United States as well. In fact, last April Whole Foods began marketing “naturally imperfect” produce in a handful of their California stores, and just last month some Wal-Mart stores began offering “weather-dented” apples at a discounted price.
But will the public latch onto this strange but environmentally and economically conscious movement?
Perhaps as we become more educated and understand that looks don’t dictate flavor and nutrition, we might be more open to buying these less attractive foods that are simply saddled with a cosmetic disadvantage. Nutrition and taste are not affected in the least, and although they may not look pageant perfect, they still contain the varied nutrients that so many of us are lacking in our diet.
So what about the bruises, injuries, and blemishes that don’t look all that appetizing? Just cut them out and savor the good stuff! There is really no reason to waste perfectly good food simply because there is a small discoloration, dent or deformity.
Now let’s consider organic foods in the context of this discussion. Because organic foods are grown without synthetic chemicals and are not genetically modified, they are often smaller, somewhat disfigured and may vary in color. And since they are not treated with synthetic preservatives or waxes, they tend to be less shiny and bright.
But looks can be deceiving. Although the vibrantly colored well-shaped conventional pieces of produce may be more pleasing to the eye, they may not be as life-giving as the not so dazzling variety. There is mounting evidence that organic foods possess higher amounts of nutrients such as Vitamin C, Vitamin A, and iron, as well as higher levels of antioxidants and disease-fighting phytonutrients.
From a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition:
“In the present study, we carried out meta-analyses based on 343 peer-reviewed publications that indicate statistically significant and meaningful differences in composition between organic and non-organic crops/crop-based foods. Most importantly, the concentrations of a range of antioxidants such as polyphenolics were found to be substantially higher in organic crops/ crop-based foods, with those of phenolic acids, flavanones, stilbenes, flavones, flavonols and anthocyanins being an estimated 19 (95 % CI 5, 33) %, 69 (95 % CI 13, 125) %, 28 (95 % CI 12, 44) %, 26 (95 % CI 3, 48) %, 50 (95 % CI 28, 72) % and 51 (95 % CI 17, 86) % higher, respectively.
Many of these compounds have previously been linked to a reduced risk of chronic diseases, including CVD and neurodegenerative diseases and certain cancers, in dietary intervention and epidemiological studies. Additionally, the frequency of occurrence of pesticide residues was found to be four times higher in conventional crops, which also contained significantly higher concentrations of the toxic metal Cd.”
Additionally, organic foods have the upper hand when it comes to safety. Organically produced foods contain approximately 30% less pesticide residue than conventionally produced, and although conventional falls within allowable safety limits, we don’t yet know the long-term effects of exposure to these chemicals. The label certified or 100% organic is also an assurance that a food item has not been genetically modified.
According to the Institute For Responsible Technology, GMO foods have been linked to a number of adverse health conditions including allergic reactions, immune dysfunction, reproductive problems, digestive problems, accelerated aging, and increased sensitivities and allergies to other foods. Links have also been found between GMO foods and autism and gluten sensitivities. And as with exposure to chemical pesticides, we do not yet know the long-term effects of consuming genetically modified food.
Based on what we do and don’t know about the health effects of producing and consuming conventional foods that have been artificially modified and/or sprayed with toxic chemicals, and the environmental and economic impact of food waste, isn’t it common sense that we should be seeking out more unique looking foods in the organic section of the market?
Maybe it’s time to jump on the anti-beauty pageant wagon and fill our grocery store baskets and carts with some beautifully hideous edibles. This is just further proof that nature isn’t perfect and that looks aren’t everything!