As we’ve reported, as much as 40 percent of the fruits and vegetables grown worldwide never make it to consumers. Sometimes farmers discard perfectly tasty, edible and nutritious produce because it fails to meet supermarkets’ cosmetic ideal. (It’s not known how much food gets discarded for this reason.)
Over in Europe, several large retailers are heeding the call to fight food waste by selling the bumpy and unsightly in their produce aisles. One French supermarket became an Internet cause célèbre last year with a marketing campaign that glorified absurdly misshapen produce.
Alas, embracing ugly fruits and vegetables is still a nascent concept on this side of the Atlantic. “I wanted to draw attention to this issue,” Figueiredo says. “In the U.S., no major supermarket is selling ugly fruit and vegetable, really. … And certainly, no one is making any sort of statement about it, like in Europe.”
So Figueiredo, who is the “U.S. ambassador” for the British anti-food waste group Feedback, took it upon himself to raise awareness — with a side of humor. He’s amassed more than 5,000 Twitter followers since launching his account in mid-December, and some big names in the world of food have retweeted his message, including celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and food journalist Michael Pollan.
Figueiredo hopes the images will encourage consumers who encounter them to demand that their local supermarkets start carrying these nutritious uglies.
He is also planning several events for 2015 to spread the love of ugly, building on the momentum around tackling food waste. For instance, this fall in New York City, he plans to stage a Feeding the 5,000 event, in which throngs gather to eat tasty meals prepared using food that would otherwise have gone to waste. And chef and author Dan Barber is throwing his weight behind the issue with wastED, a food waste-focused pop-up he’ll be running next month out of his restaurant Blue Hill in New York City.
So what gives these fruits and veggies their curious and crazy shapes? Rest assured: These aren’t genetic mutants, says Irwin Goldman, a professor of horticulture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. While malformed produce can result from genetic mutations, “most of the time it’s just an environmental effect,” he says.
“They’re totally edible and in some cases, quite beautiful,” Goldman says.