Ugly Produce May Not Save Us

The idea seems so sensible, and so sustainable: What's the point of rejecting perfectly tasty fruits and vegetables if they're not picture-perfect? Ugly produce startups and grocery-store programs have become more visible over the past few years, but it may be more trend than trenchant policy.

The Associated Press reports that consumers aren't exactly leaping at the chance to buy blemished apples and fugly potatoes, no matter how delicious they are. Grocers like Whole Foods, Meijer, Giant Eagle, and others have tested the waters, but are now scaling back or eliminating cheaper imperfect produce options for shoppers. Delivery services like Hungry Harvest are still available, but far-reaching chains like Walmart are no longer on board.

Some couldn't be more thrilled to see the back of the ugly produce movement. Crop scientist Sarah Taber posted a widely shared (and somewhat colorful) Twitter rant on the matter in January. She points out that most of the problems the movement says it solves aren't actually the right issues. For instance, misshapen produce is harder to ship and easier to damage in transit. As for the waste itself, Taber writes, "The only time packinghouses throw out fruit is when IT'S ACTUALLY INEDIBLE."

In fact, most ugly produce gets used anyway, to create everything from salsas to cider to livestock feed. As for the more marginal items that these programs tend to target? You can find them very cheaply already — at the grocery stores that service lower-income areas. Food waste is an important issue, but budgeting-wise, perhaps it's most important on the individual level.