Ugly is the New Beautiful: Tackling Aesthetic Food Waste 

Vast quantities of edible produce is thrown away before it ever even reaches the shelves. Some food-activists are fighting for so-called ugly fruit and veg to make it to the table rather than the tip.

Earlier this year, researchers at the University of Edinburgh looked at how much food is wasted before it reaches the point of sale within the European Economic Area. They found that more than 50 million tonnes of fresh produce grown in Europe is discarded, mainly because it doesn’t meet the aesthetic standards of shops and consumers.

The UK alone discards as much as 4.5 million tonnes, according to the researchers, with edible food being discarded during the food supply chain or even on the farm where it is grown. This is down to the use of aesthetics to classify the acceptability of fresh foods, and these standards are controlled by a few powerful supermarket chains, according to the researchers.

The research suggests that more than a third of all farm production is lost because it fails to meet these aesthetic criteria. This causes serious environmental issues as well as raising ethical issues when there are still large portions of the world who go hungry. In fact, recent research suggests that while 4.5 million tonnes of edible but ugly food is discarded, there are “4 million children in the UK [that] live in households that would struggle to afford to buy enough fruit, vegetables, fish and other healthy foods to meet the official nutrition guidelines.”

What can be done about ugly food waste?

Many of the activists fighting to have ugly produce back on the shelves are based in the USA, where “perfect produce” is more of a problem. But, the statistics speak volumes and it is clear that change is needed in the UK as well.

Ugly Produce is Beautiful is a campaign based in the USA that started in 2016. They aim to grow a global movement of “producers, retailers, restaurants and consumers to create awareness and a revolution in the food industry to reduce food waste and pollution.” They have a specific focus on the fact that up to 40% of produce is discarded in America due to aesthetics. They take action through education about food waste as well as promoting events where people can actually buy produce, recipes in which to use them and photography to show that ugly can be beautiful.

Another interesting project is Imperfect Produce, a commercial venture based out of San Francisco. The company is trying to tackle food waste by buying so-called ugly produce direct from farmers and selling it as part of delivered subscription produce boxes. According to the company, the fruit and vegetables work out being about 30% cheaper than store-bought ones.

Perhaps it won’t be long before we see similar projects and businesses appearing in the UK to try to tackle the millions of tonnes of wasted produce.