Ugly food is good food — or so we tried to tell you in “Why We Should Eat Ugly Food.” If you haven’t read it yet, here’s the rundown: Up to 40% of fruits and vegetables don’t make it from the farm to the supermarket because they do not fit certain industry aesthetic standards. But companies and initiatives like Imperfect Produce exist to make these “ugly” fruits and veggies accessible to those who want them and reduce the amount of food we throw away each year (estimates run to $160 billion worth annually).
Imperfect Produce is more than just an ugly food delivery service.
It inspires a culture of sustainability and mindfulness in selecting food while destroying the stigma that deformed, funky-looking food is bad. From cute Instagram photos of ugly foods with googly eyes to their Whole Foods campaign last year, Imperfect is altering the minds of ethical food consumers.
I had a conversation with the Content Manager of Imperfect Produce, Reilly Brock, who oversees the expansion of the brand’s voice via social media, blog posts, and e-mail campaigns. From questions about googly eye vegetables to becoming a sustainable consumer to the ugly food movement, we cover it all.
Q: What is Imperfect’s mission?
A: We started with the mission of helping ugly produce make it off farms, and it grew to help people eat better, making food more accessible and affordable while feeding more people with less wasted food. The storytelling behind Imperfect Produce is important to us. Food waste is a very compelling story. People don’t always know about it — but they know they’re personally throwing out food, as well as in restaurants. A lot of the content we put out hopes to make our food system a little more transparent for people. We love digging into the backstory. Like how an avocado was too small it had to be composted.
Q: How is that mission reflected in your branding?
A: Part of our brand is that it involves something deeper — a more humanizing impact. I love Imperfect because we’re all about acceptance and love and how that can triumph over a lot of things. Diversity is a very positive thing – in both people and in food. People come in all shapes and sizes. So do produce. We think this diversity is something to celebrate and cherish. We don’t put people into labels, so why should we do that to food? We love making things playful, like photographing a rainbow carrot or adding googly eyes to a vegetable to give it personality.
Q: What do you have to say to the skeptics of ugly food? People who think that there’s something wrong with them because they look weird?
A: Admittedly, we’re visual creatures. We eat with our eyes first. And we’re also very much creatures of context – we take what’s in front of us is normal unless told or shown otherwise. People who’ve had a vegetable plot in the yard they know instinctively that they all look different. The oddity is that they all look the same or are uniform. Imperfect is trying to change that conversation. Ugly food is out there and it’s perfectly delicious and healthy. Even so, when you cook something — who cares if it’s perfectly round or green or one uniform shape? All that matters to us is that it’s healthy, fresh and delicious. Once we tell the story of the produce, they’re suddenly on our side and upset why this wasn’t before.
Q: Can you explain the GMO (genetically modified) claims then?
A: Sometimes, people have a knee-jerk reaction to GMO, thinking that the vegetable or fruit has weird GMO reactions. If you shop at the store, it might look like an aberration. All of Imperfect’s stuff is non-certified GMO in terms of sourcing. This is all natural. It’s a reflection of the diversity that the field produces. Up until recently, this stuff was hidden from you. It was turned into animal feed or left in the field, but now we’re bringing it out into the open. It resonates on an environmental level and a love and acceptance level.. And you’re also saving money!
Q: What are your thoughts on the ugly food movement? I mean, Imperfect Produce is kind of at the center of it.
A: I think it’s surpassed being a trend. It’s a common way feature of thinking. It’s a nonpartisan environmental movement which is pretty rare in this day and age. Anyone who looks into this problem, at the gov, home or restaurant level – its a ridiculous and silly problem. We’re literally throwing them out to find the food we’re growing. It’s really people are waking up to it.
Q: Do you have any tips for those who want to shop better and make an environmental impact without breaking the bank?
A: For an individual looking to make more of an impact, start somewhere small. Something as simple as how you shop and if you meal plan can have an impact on your wallet and the environment, as well. Have a plan for using things; store your produce correctly. Learn how to pickle or how to ferment and make your own stocks or sauces. There are so many different ways to use all your produce because it’s important to remember that food wasted is also money wasted. Getting comfortable making pickles or sauerkraut. Do anything where you put yourself more in touch with your food, and that will make want to waste less.
And Brock’s hopes for the future of food? He personally hopes that ugly produce would be something that is accepted as normal. “I hope I have kids and grandkids thinking of all produce as beautiful and edible,” he shares.
Food is at the intersection of our entire life, Brock says. And people have to recognize that. It’s coming back in touch with food that used to be at the heart of our culture before people stressed out about diet restrictions and calorie counts. It’s about embracing fruits and vegetables in the center of our diets.
“Beyond spreading Imperfect Produce across the country, I think the future of food is reprioritizing what we’re eating and what’s worth spending time and money on,” said Brock.
Photo by pxhere