There’s No Such Thing as Ugly Produce

Our newest sustainability hero recently teamed up with FP and Girls Inc. to share a few tips in preserving produce once thought “unfit” for our kitchens…

Here’s an interesting — and humbling — fact: 800 to 900 million tons of food, the weight of 9,000 aircraft carriers, rots in storage or doesn’t make it out of the fields each year because farmers can’t find a market for them.
Through their sourcing of imperfect and sometimes “ugly” foods, San Francisco-based Imperfect Produce is decreasing that number, while ensuring that people are better informed about where their food comes from and how to preserve and prepare it.
Perhaps most notably, Imperfect curates boxes of organic fruits and/or vegetables — by your choice — through a weekly delivery service, to make your shopping and eating experience even simpler and more sustainable, which may impact the very meaning of the word “ugly.”
Their participation in last Saturday’s FP x Girls Inc. event, hosted by Philadelphia’s The Deacon and hosted by Sophia Roe, proved invaluable to those in attendance, so we thought we’d share some of who they are and what they do for you, too:
Imperfect Produce – your name speaks for itself, but can you tell us the moment it came to be?
As a college student at the University of Maryland, Imperfect’s CEO Ben Simon noticed a lot of food in his cafeteria going to waste. To solve this problem, he founded the Food Recovery Network (FRN), a non-profit dedicated to preventing waste on college campuses. Through his work with the FRN, Ben Simon met Imperfect co-founder Ben Chesler. As they learned more about food waste in America, Ben and Ben realized that there was an even bigger opportunity to make an impact on food waste by addressing the billions of pounds of “ugly” and surplus produce that never even made it off of farms every year.
The stats you share on your site, re: food waste are truly staggering. How do you aim to curb some of those numbers through your work?
We deliver food that often would’ve gone to waste or been undervalued in our food system. This helps provide a better living for hard-working farmers and helps change the conversation around what our food system considers beautiful and valuable. We’re also working hard to empower our community to waste less food in their lives with practical tips for how to store fruits and vegetables, crowd-pleasing recipes for making the most of what’s in season, and delicious inspiration for what to do with your scraps and leftovers instead of throwing them away!
Is there one food that tends to be thrown away more than any other?
Research from the NRDC shows that fresh fruits and vegetables are particularly prone to being wasted in the US because they are very perishable and because they’re things that we tend to buy frequently and in larger quantities than we can actually finish. Also, a lot of perfectly good packaged food goes to waste due to confusion about what “best by” and “sell by” dates mean.
As consumers, what tips can you offer us when shopping for produce? Is there anything that absolutely validates throwing something away — like, is mold always a no-go?
The biggest thing you can do to improve how you shop for perishable foods like fruits and veggies is to shop your fridge before you shop the store. It sounds obvious, but one of the biggest reasons that food goes to waste is that we buy more than we need or forget about what we’ve already bought. Always check what you have and need to use up before you go out to buy more. When you’re shopping for produce, stock up on hearty veggies with a long shelf life — onions, potatoes, carrots — and buy things like herbs and lettuce sparingly, since they’re much more likely to wilt before you can finish them. When picking out produce, like tomatoes or apples, know that scarring on the skin is fine to eat. The one thing to keep an eye out for is bruising or soft spots, since produce like this won’t travel well and may mold sooner.
Tell us about your community outreach — how are you able to touch consumers through education?
Education is crucial to preventing food waste. Even the most sustainably grown tomato or carefully rescued ugly sweet potato is no good if folks at home don’t feel comfortable cooking it or don’t feel excited to eat it. Every season, we publish a free digital storage guide that anyone can download to learn how to store their fruits and vegetables so they stay fresh longer. We also share tips and tricks on seasonality, cooking, and using up scraps and leftovers on our Instagram page and stories.
Do you have a favorite vegetable? Why?
Picking a favorite vegetable feels a bit like picking a favorite child, but we’re very partial to onions because of how well they store, how versatile they are in the kitchen, and how they form the flavorful base of so many amazing things! They’re also a great example of how, in the kitchen, a little skill and heat can transform something tough and intense into something tender and sweet.
Go-to summer recipe:
Our go-to summer recipe is this Cherry Tomato Bruschetta Toast since it lets the tomatoes speak for themselves with style and grace. It’s the perfect snack or appetizer, takes very little time to make, and can be adapted to whatever goodies you have in your crisper drawer or in your pantry!
Tell us a bit about your interaction with Girls Inc. — what were some of the most interesting questions posed to you during this event?
We’re huge fans and admirers of Girls Inc. so it was an honor to join forces with Free People, Sophia Roe and The Deacon to lead a cooking workshop with a group of Girls Inc. girls and their mothers/mother figures. “Strong, smart, and bold” is something we should all strive to empower one another to be! The group talked a lot about building self-confidence and embracing imperfections, as they’re what make us unique and special. They also asked some great questions about how to prepare simple, healthy meals for a family, and Sophia was able to demo a few quick, healthy dishes using Imperfect vegetables!
We’re proud to also be working to make fresh fruits and vegetables more accessible and affordable to everyone, whether they’re a customer or not. We support over 90 nonprofits across the country with donations of fresh produce — we’ve donated over 2.7 million pounds of produce to date. You can learn more about this program here.
Lead image courtesy of Imperfect Produce.
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Well said! We need more businesses like this! ❤️✨

Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog