The Ugly Produce Movement May Have A Problem

The Lempert Report
February 25, 2019

Younger, socially conscious Americans and their concerns about sustainability have turned some unflattering attention toward the food industry according to a new article in The Atlantic.

One of the most popularly cited problems is the amount of produce that goes entirely unconsumed in the developed world. By some estimations, it’s more than half. To combat that, the author says, a new class of for-profit start-ups has emerged: ugly-produce boxes. Companies like Misfits Market, Imperfect Produce, and Hungry Harvest aim to fill the logistical gaps and provide new markets for growers by buying up farmers’ “ugly” or excess produce and shipping it directly to your doorstep, often by subscription. 

Food-justice advocates argue that profit-based solutions are unequipped to do battle against food inequality, and that even well-meaning companies could do real harm to community organizations. Depending on who you ask, The Atlantic says, ugly produce is either the salvation or destruction of America’s food system. Here’s one reason, what is happening is that while these startups are buying this produce from the farmer at a discounted price, in some cases the farmer was donating the ugly produce to a local food bank – offering its members the much needed vitamins and minerals that they otherwise would not eat. Another problem according the article is that the customer who buys the ugly produce is more upscale and buying the subscription for other reasons: like sustainability of the planet, or just to feel good about avoiding waste. Research has shown that produce is the category of food that is the most wasted in our homes.

Expect even more controversy as people begin to question just how much the farmers are being paid, or being taken advantage of, and begin to measure the impact on food banks and shelters across the nation.

Lets remember that the majority of American produce, ugly or not, winds up being used for processing as an ingredient in other foods; and typically supermarkets and restaurants have stricter standards for size, shape and color of produce; and those are based on what people will buy. Ugly produce makes great headlines, but the question about its future prospects remains.