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Make room for ugly fruits, fill stomachs not landfills

It is often said that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. This statement is even truer when it comes to fruits and vegetables. One-third of them never even make it to our grocery store shelves just because of how they look. While supermarkets have a part to play in this, we must also examine our consciences.

Which fruit would you choose?

Would you choose the oval-shaped, matte-coloured apple or the perfectly rounded shiny one? One of these would make a nicer Instagram photo than the other, but in the end, both would taste equally as good and would satisfy your hunger.

More than 820 million people go hungry every day, while the world as a whole wastes or loses 1/3 of what is produced. In the case of fruits and vegetables, almost half (45%) is wasted. In our world of increasing extreme weather events and changes in climates, saving ugly fruits is not only an issue of ethics, but it is also a question of resources. Valuable natural resources go into producing the food we throw away.

It takes 13 litres of water to grow one tomato and 50 litres of water to produce one orange. It also takes seeds, soil, the labour of farmers and even the fuel that goes into transporting the food. All of these resources are lost when the fruit (pun intended) of these labours is lost. Saving ugly fruits and vegetables is not a question of ethics, it is a question of resources.

Waste occurs in many ways and at many different parts of the value chains of fruits.

A carrot for instance often faces many obstacles before even getting to a supermarket. It must pass the rigid requirements that supermarkets have for their fruits and vegetables. Sometimes, carrots must go through photographic sensor machines that analyze them for aesthetic defects. If they are slightly bent, not bright orange, have blemish or are broken, they are moved into the pile intended for livestock feeds even though they are still fit for human consumption. In total, about 25-30% of carrots, do not make it to the grocery store because of physical or aesthetic defects. A farmer’s market or farm shops sale of carrots can bypass some of the strict aesthetic standards that supermarkets have, but would you buy a traditionally-looking carrot?

By choosing fruits and vegetables that are imperfect or riper, we as consumers can help save all the resources that went into making the food. We should learn to love ugly fruits and vegetables; we could save some of the food that is wasted simply because of the way it looks.

Bananas are a particularly fragile fruit. Even if they make it to the grocery stores or markets, the way they are stocked and packaged can damage these softies. Handling bananas roughly can negatively impact their appearance and can cause the fruit to spoil more quickly. Consumers are then not normally keen to buy produce that is over-ripe, soft, discoloured or damaged.

Here is a tip for you: If you intend to eat the fruit the same day, buy the ones that are already ripe. If no one chooses them, they will end up in the garbage instead of someone’s stomach.

“Everything has beauty but not everyone sees it.”- Confucius

Some foods like, potatoes, are lost or wasted when they are processed into other types of food. For example, potatoes destined to be French fries can be wasted in the stage where they are cut into strips. These strips break easily during the processing and packaging stages. The broken pieces are often thrown out because it is usually cheaper to dispose them of than to reuse them. Other potatoes that get damaged during the loading or transport phase get excluded before even making it to the packaging factory.

Developing markets for “sub-standard” produce and products, like broken potatoes, which are still safe for consumption, nutritious and taste good, would be one way to reduce food waste or losses caused by errors in processing, packaging or transporting.

Most of this waste is preventable. Choosing ugly produce, storing fruits and vegetables properly and eating what you already have in the refrigerator before what is newly purchased are just some things that each of us can do in our daily lives to create a #ZeroHunger world and combat climate change.