Ever since moving to America from China, my mission to lead a zero-waste lifestyle has become significantly more difficult. Until I discovered Imperfect Foods. In China, it was my experience that people were less aware of the negative impacts of plastic. Despite this, there seemed to be more opportunities to affordably shop for most necessities in reusable containers.
I now live in Rhode Island and it feels like food shopping without single-use plastics is almost impossible. There are seasonal markets and select package-free fresh produce available in certain stores, but it is still difficult to eliminate using disposable plastic. While stores like Trader Joe’s have pledged to cut their plastic packaging, it will be a long and wasteful road ahead.
Before moving to Rhode Island, I spent a year in New York where we were bombarded with advertisements for Misfits Market. These ads featuring phallic vegetables obviously got my attention, and so my research into the ugly produce movement began.
The United States is, unfortunately, a global leader in food waste. One of the reasons for this is the regulations for what is and isn’t considered fit for human consumption. On one hand the US allows the use of pesticides and ingredients that are banned in the other areas of the world. On the other, they are strict about the size and transfer conditions of fresh produce.
This is where the ugly produce movement comes in. Instead of throwing away perfectly edible produce, companies such as Imperfect Foods and Misfits Market have been selling it at a lower cost. Although Misfits seems like a great company, we ended up signing up for Imperfect.
How does it work?
Every two weeks, we receive a cardboard box with either zero or very minimal plastic full of food that would have (according to the company) otherwise been wasted. The great thing about Imperfect Foods is that you can either receive the generic box full of whatever is in supply, or you can customize your box a few days before it ships to get the exact ingredients you may need at the moment. You can also skip that week’s box with the click of a button at no cost if you find you don’t need anything that week!
In the past two months I have received several boxes of random produce as well as two customized ones. So far, I have not been disappointed! Okay, that’s not true… I am still waiting for a particularly ugly or hilariously shaped vegetable. But this is relevant to my next point…
With the rise of the ugly produce movement, just like any other, came the naysayers. People have been claiming that the food would have otherwise been donated to food banks. While this could be true, there are other ways to solve this. For example, the USA could battle this by making it a law for all grocery stores and restaurants to donate uneaten and expired food to food banks. This has already been done in France.
Another argument is that the demand for misshapen vegetables is encouraging farmers to go out of their way to grow excess food just to make a profit. I can’t speak for all ugly produce sellers, but I am pretty confident that Imperfect doesn’t do this. Why? Because if you go online, you can see exactly why the fruit and vegetables you received were discarded by supermarkets.
Our Experience with Imperfect Foods
So far, I have received blueberries that were considered too small to sell (they tasted delicious). One time there were peaches that had been in a box that fell of a truck so it was no longer “safe” to sell (and they were perfectly ripe). I also bought a whole bunch of pasta that was sold by a company that changed their packaging so it was “outdated” (and super tasty). Like I said, my biggest disappointment has ironically been not receiving anything ugly yet.
Another reason why I don’t believe that this movement will create more waste due to demand is the cost. Imperfect claims to be up to 30% cheaper than grocery stores, and while I can’t verify this exact number, we have definitely saved money. Oh, and in addition to the minimal packaging (most veggies come all packed together in a cardboard box) everything comes from local farms and they tell you what came from where.
Of course it would be much better to figure out a way not to overproduce these fruits and vegetables and to grow only as much as we need. But let’s be reasonable, that’s difficult especially with the changing environment where unpredictable weather can close down an entire farm. Therefore growing extra food actually makes financial sense despite not being environmentally friendly.
Rant over! Here’s the concluding pro and con list:
- cheap cost
- local produce
- ships straight to your door
- little to zero plastic waste
- reduces food waste
- helps local farmers
- 100% customizable
- tastes delicious
- I’m still waiting for that ugly vegetable a dozen boxes in #falseadvertising