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Embracing Imperfection: Reducing Food Waste with Misshapen Produce from Your CSA

June 26, 2024

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Embracing Imperfection: Reducing Food Waste with Misshapen Produce from Your CSA

The Ugly Truth About Food Waste

You know, I used to consider myself an environmental journalist, not an environmentalist. But after reporting on the growing number of climate crises, I realized I could no longer pretend – I am an environmentalist at heart. I believe humans should modify their behavior for the benefit of the planet. And one of the most impactful changes I’ve made? Rethinking how I get my fruits and vegetables.

Every year in the United States, a staggering 30 to 40 percent of all food available for consumption goes uneaten. Worse still, a significant portion of that – around 11 to 16 percent, or a whopping 20 billion pounds – comes straight from the farms. It’s an economic, environmental, and moral offense that I just couldn’t stomach any longer.

So, I decided to take action. I started exploring community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs, where you pre-pay for a share in a local farm. But then I discovered an even more intriguing option – companies like Hungry Harvest and Imperfect Foods that rescue “ugly” or misshapen produce from going to waste. And let me tell you, diving into those orange-and-brown boxes every other Sunday has been quite the adventure.

The Rise of the Ugly Produce Movement

I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of pride when those cardboard boxes started showing up on my doorstep. I’d open them up and marvel at the contents – tiny avocados, bruised pears, and hilariously oversized eggplants. It was like a produce-themed version of the TV show “Ugly Delicious.”

But as the ugly produce movement started gaining more and more attention, I began to question whether these companies were truly the environmental heroes I had initially thought. Were they really “rescuing” food waste, or were they just capitalizing on a trend and potentially making the problem worse?

The Pros and Cons of Ugly Produce Delivery

On one hand, these companies are doing some tangible good. They’re providing a market for fruits and veggies that would otherwise go to waste, giving a much-needed financial boost to organic family farms, and using their profits to fight hunger. Just in the last three years, Imperfect Foods alone claims to have saved 30 million pounds of food and 900 million gallons of water from going to waste. That’s no small feat.

But on the other hand, critics argue that these companies are just tapping into the same surplus market as others, potentially incentivizing farmers to overproduce in the first place. They say the solution to food waste should be to create a system where excess food isn’t produced at all, not to normalize and monetize it.

It’s a valid point. After all, the reason we have so much waste in the first place is because of overproduction. And these venture capital-backed companies, while well-intentioned, could be making the problem worse by providing even more reason to overproduce.

The CSA Dilemma

To further complicate matters, the rise of ugly produce delivery services seems to be having an unexpected impact on the original “ugly produce” providers – community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs.

You see, CSAs are in a way the original ugly-produce companies. Customers pay for a share in their local farm, assuming some of the risk and variability in the harvest. This not only keeps food waste to a minimum, but it also provides crucial financial protection for the farmer.

However, since the ugly produce movement took off, some CSAs have seen a significant drop in customers – up to 50 or 60 percent in some cases. Customers may be lured away by the convenience and perceived affordability of the delivery services, even if they’re not quite getting the same connection to their local farmers.

Finding the Balance

So where does that leave us? Are these ugly produce delivery companies truly helping the cause, or are they just perpetuating the very system they’re trying to fix?

Honestly, I don’t have a definitive answer. The founders of Hungry Harvest and Imperfect Foods seem genuinely committed to solving the food waste crisis, and their efforts have undoubtedly made a positive impact. But the criticisms raised by food justice advocates like Max Cadji and Eric Holt-Gimenez are also valid and necessary.

Ultimately, I’ve decided to ditch my orange-and-brown box and instead sign up for a CSA from my local Thornapple Community Supported Agriculture program. While I can’t be certain that I’m doing more good than harm by participating in the ugly produce delivery services, I know that supporting my local farmers and embracing the imperfections of their harvest is a step in the right direction.

Embracing the Imperfect Future

The truth is, we need radical, not incremental solutions to tackle the overwhelming issue of food waste. And that includes a complete overhaul of our broken food system. While companies like Hungry Harvest and Imperfect Foods are doing important work, we can’t lose sight of the bigger picture.

So, let’s all embrace a little more imperfection in our lives. Let’s support our local farmers, celebrate the odd-shaped produce, and work towards a future where food waste is a relic of the past. After all, as one expert put it, “by embracing sustainable practices, we can effectively reduce food waste while promoting a more sustainable food system.”

It’s time to get our hands dirty and be the change we want to see in the world. Who’s with me?

About Us

Thornapple CSA: A community-driven initiative championing sustainable agriculture. We connect members with fresh, organic produce, celebrating the bond between land and community.

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