Trash or treasure? Ugly fruits and vegetables get their day in Whole Foods

Trash or treasure? Ugly fruits and vegetables get their day in Whole Foods

They say: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure and One man’s meat is another man’s poison. The idea? Perceptions of worthlessness vs. value or pleasing vs. distasteful is very much in the eye of the beholder.

Earlier this month food waste reduction advocates scored a big victory when Whole Foods Market announced a pilot program in which some Northern California stores will sell “ugly” produce, the substandard kind that growers typically trash, compost, and sometimes donate—practices with significant adverse financial, environmental, and social consequences up and down the stakeholder chain.

Starting in late April Whole Foods customers will get to vote with their wallets about whether “ugly” really should be trashed and how willing they are to get behind the food waste reduction movement on a personal level.

Supermarket customers in several European countries and Australia have been buying second-tier produce to help reduce food waste for several years now, largely thanks to the work of award-winning British author (“Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal“) and food waste activist Tristram Stuart. In the U.S. culinary nutritionist Stefanie Sacks, author of “What the Fork Are You Eating?,” and Jordan Figueiredo, a solid waste specialist and founder of UglyFruitandVeg.org, organized to collect over 111,000 signatures to petition Whole Foods to sell ugly produce—successfully it seems. Their next target is Walmart.

Think about it: Would you bet on your ability to discern a fancy donut peach from a deformed reject? And what about the highly-seasonal, fiercely smelly durian? Many love its meat, others are convinced it’s poison. According to Sacks, “uglies” are as nutritious as grade As and often have more taste. Now, starting at Whole Foods and hopefully at more grocers, Americans will get the chance to be judge and jury of ugly food and have the option to take food waste reduction into their own hands.