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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Homeyer: Ugly Fruit

My vegetable garden is largely planted, and my mouth waters when I think about eating fresh tomatoes hot from the sun, or the carrots I’ll eat outdoors after just a cursory spray from the hose.I don’t worry about the looks of my veggies, it’s their flavor and chemical-free nature that I care about – but that’s not true for many people at the grocery store. Shoppers want flawless, perfect-looking fruits and vegetables.

As a result, we Americans waste a lot of perfectly good food, and I blame Barbie. She’s just a plastic doll, but her unrealistic perfection seems to have influenced our concept of what an apple or a carrot should look like - we want them perfect! So literally tons of food never make it to the grocery store, or never get sold. It’s time to re-think that, and in parts of Europe, people are.

A woman in Portugal decided that she should do something about all the fruits and vegetables that are deemed “unsaleable” by supermarkets. So she set about buying fruits that had minor insect damage, discoloration, or were just odd sizes or funny shapes. She buys directly from farmers at a fraction of the price a grocery store would pay because the food is otherwise headed for the compost pile. She sells this so-called ugly fruit cheap to members who subscribe to the non-profit program she initiated.

Here, some of our misshapen or flawed produce will go to juice or other processed products like applesauce. But most small Vermont farmers have neither the time nor the machinery for this kind of processing. Some vegetables with minor flaws go to soup kitchens or food pantries. The non-profit Willing Hands distributes fresh food, some of it gleaned and less than perfect looking, to people who might not otherwise have any. I like that.

Individually, we can relax our standards a bit. We can select fresh fruit or veggies from the bin that are not perfect – but are still fine for eating.

As a gardener I pick and eat vegetables that have flaws. I wouldn’t think of throwing out a 2-legged carrot or rejecting greens with a few pin-sized holes made by flea beetles. I’ve learned to soak broccoli in salty water to get rid of those green caterpillars hiding in the florets.

Imperfection is a part of life, so I like the idea of an Ugly Fruit Movement. If it can catch on in Portugal, maybe it can here, too.