Food and Water

Could 'ugly’ fruit and vegetables help solve world hunger?

Carrots grown in France are displayed at the vegetables section at the Carrefour supermarket in Lille, France, November 5, 2015.

Could wonky fruit and veg help feed the world? Image: REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

Joe Myers
Writer, Forum Agenda
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Food Security

About a third of all the food we produce each year is wasted - and more fruit and veg is thrown away than any other food group.

Our obsession with 'perfectly' sized produce is, according to many, one of the primary causes of this staggering level of waste.

Could ‘ugly’ fruit and veg help ensure everyone has enough to eat?

What is ‘ugly’ fruit and veg?

‘Ugly’ refers to fruit and vegetables rejected by retailers because they don’t meet exact specifications. This could be because they’re over- or under-sized, cracked, blemished, or misshapen in other ways.

The argument goes that as consumers we demand perfectly sized and shaped food.

However, in the EU and US, some supermarkets are beginning to sell ‘ugly’ items alongside other produce. British supermarket giant Asda has gone as far as selling a ‘wonky veg box’. The retailer claims the box contains enough vegetables to provide a family of four with a week’s worth of meals.

But, for campaigner Tristram Stuart, “it would be far better to simply relax the standards.”

So is ‘ugly’ food the answer?

It’s certainly a step in the right direction.

Anything that can be done to reduce the vast amount of global food waste has to be a good thing. With around 800 million people going hungry every day, according to the FAO, meeting our food supply needs requires swift action. This is becoming increasingly important as the global population swells.

Wasting food also has an impact on the environment. Wasted, uneaten and rejected food squanders the water, seeds, fuel, land, etc. needed to produce it. According to the UN, every year food that is produced, but not eaten, consumes the same volume of water as the annual flow of the Volga river. If it were a country, food waste would be the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

Ultimately, accepting imperfect fruit and veg is an important part of a much-needed change in habits and attitudes. Encouraging people to think about their food consumption and waste, such as how they plan their weekly grocery shopping, what they throw out and the quest for perfectly shaped carrots, will have a positive impact on the amount of produce we discard.

If we are to ensure global food security, this is an important step.

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