First published in Franklin Journal
When I opened my door to greet my girlfriend the other day, she proudly presented me with an ugli fruit and the March issue of National Geographic. Now to anyone else, this may not be a delightful offering, but along with the delight of acknowledging my friend knows me well, I delighted in getting the immediate connection of magazine and fruit offering. Ugli fruit, a hybridization of the tangerine, grapefruit and orange, would in most eyes be viewed as unfortunate looking. The article sported on the cover of the magazine claimed less than perfect looking food can help feed the planet. On this particular occasion, my friend knows me better than she realizes.
As my coffee brews, I think on that piece of fruit. What my friend didn’t know is that I commonly post articles on twitter about “ugly” produce. The topic initially caught my attention, because when I was growing up, “ugly” wasn’t a food grading; although, some fruits were sold as “utility” or “fancy”. I can’t recall my mother buying the “fancy” grade. She was fond of saying “once it’s in your stomach, it all looks the same”. I do remember wondering what made one fancier than the other. Other than markings indicating spoilage, appearance doesn’t change the flavor.
When my mother lived in NYC, she would bundle her offspring, pack the younger ones into a stroller, and while firmly grasping the hand of the eldest toddler, head out with devout resolution to scour the neighborhood for the food bargain of the day. A shop owner might call out enticingly, “I have some nice ripe bananas for your babies!” While some would turn their nose up at such an offering, the shop owner knew she would mash them for her babies or bake into banana bread, cookies or cake. Any extras would be shared with tenant neighbors or frozen for a later time. My mother knew that fresh, rather than processed food was best. Buying such food as over ripe fruit and day old bread at reduced cost saved on her food budget. Her Scottish heritage had taught her to be frugal. Her having been raised with food scarcity during the Depression and War times, taught her food was not to be wasted.
It rankles me to throw out food that could have been eaten or preserved, because I was neglectful and let it spoil. It happens to all of us once in a while, but based on research, I find this once in a while occasion is becoming a habit. Even worse, today we are throwing out food, not so much because it has spoiled, but because it doesn’t meet our definition of perfect. A two legged carrot; a heart-shaped, under-sized potato; or a squash whose neck is too crooked, gets cast aside as unfavorable to eat. Seriously? These traits do not change the flavor and will satisfy your hunger, just as well as the perfect-looking produce.
Sustainable people build sustainable communities. To this end, as a Community Visionary, one topic I focus on is food and look to commonalities for solutions. Adequate food access is one way to create sustainability. Hungry people aren’t sustainable when their opportunities to work, learn and play are diminished due to inadequate food. I also look at food pollution in the form of food waste. We are learning more about the effects of greenhouse gas emissions challenging the sustainability of our planet. Food waste generates enough greenhouse gas that were we to equate it to that of a country, it would come in third after the US and China. Hunger, food waste, and greenhouse gas emissions are all problems that offer a solution commonality – reduce the 2.9 trillion pounds of food we waste each year.
What can we do to simultaneously reduce food waste, feed people and reduce greenhouse gas emissions?
- Let’s develop gleaning programs which rescue rejected produce from becoming landfill and compost fodder.
- Organize programs that collect excess food from backyard gardeners and redistribute to the hungry.
- Encourage grocery stores to increase their efforts to separate the less fancy produce from the extra fancy and sell at a lower cost to make it more enticing – what doesn’t sell, donate quickly to outreach programs.
- Send school leftovers home with students or re-purpose as snacks for students, volunteers and staff during school, or for after-school programs.
- Think of “less than perfect” as personality – two-legged carrots and heart-shaped potatoes are great conversation starters.