A few months ago, I watched a video put out by a French company that described their Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables movement. Intermarche, the company behind this movement, went to their growers and bought all of the produce they normally would have thrown away. Bumpy apples and potatoes, oranges disfigured at the apex or in the rind, curly peppers rather than straight, carrots with two legs instead of one, all perfectly good food for eating, just displeasing to the eye. They took this inglorious produce to their stores, gave them their own aisle, and sold it for 30% less than their beautiful counterparts. It was a huge success and within the first two days of this endeavor, they sold an average 1.2 tons per store. Ingenious!
After watching the video, my thoughts scattered in two very distinct directions. The first, nearly one half of my grocery bill is produce. I try to buy organic and I go to Farmer’s Markets to get fresher, healthier versions than the offerings at the my local supermarket. Rarely are those offerings any cheaper, but their aesthetics are as good, if not better than their grocery store counterparts. How much money would I save if one of our grocery store chains adopted this idea? Saving 30% on half of my groceries is a heck of a lot of money. I could buy more books with that money!
I’m embarrassed to admit my ignorance. I had no idea the magnitude of waste that exists with imperfect looking produce. Even worse, it never occurred to me that all produce didn’t grow perfectly. I’ve grown my own garden many times, and the occasional piece of disfigured vegetable delighted me. The quirkiness of its shape often led to comparisons to animals, other objects, and the vegetable earned the right to sit in the fruit bowl on my countertop for all to admire. I assumed, since I had grown it, I had done something wrong, or not done something enough, and that’s why I would get the occasional misshaped piece. I never extrapolated the idea to farmers at large, probably because I never witnessed any of these quirky shaped pieces of produce in the stores.
The second train of thought led me down a far uglier road. Are we, as a species, so consumed with beauty and perfection we are willing to waste millions of tons of food, and the money it represents, just so we don’t have to see anything ugly? Have the corporations of the world decided this for us, or did our grandparents or great grandparents decide this because they left these pieces of produce behind? Who decided the different shapes unworthy of consumption? Intermarche, the brilliant company behind this movement, made and distributed soups and juices to demonstrate the taste and functionality of this produce was just as good as its perfect counterparts.
What does that say about people? The implications nauseate. And let’s be honest, the word implication is a nicety. We do this to each other both consciously and unconsciously. We place value on individuals based on their looks. Men on the prowl do not approach the chubby girl before they approach the thin girl. Trust me on that one. Women on the prowl don’t approach the guy with sweat stains in the armpits of his shirt. Whatever the value judgement might be, we make them. And apparently we make them about our produce as well.
My hats go off to Intermarche. Not only have they found a way to reduce millions of tons of waste, they’ve also opened the door to the idea that just because something doesn’t look the way we want or expect it to, it still fulfills the same function as it’s more aesthetically pleasing counterparts. Now, devaluing it by 30%? Well, that’s a topic for another blog post.
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