There have been lots of articles and a bit of a buzz around ugly fruit and vegetables in the last year. While ugly vegetables are just an icon for unnecessary food waste and unlikely to contribute very much in terms of reducing food waste the attention being paid to them serves an important function.
Icons are simple to understand and raise awareness of the issue to those, unlike us, who may not give it much thought in the hoi polloi of their daily lives. The plastic shopping bag is a great example of what I mean by icon. It points to our overconsumption of a resource that could become a source of pollution. Overall its use or non-use has minimal environmental impact (except when they become litter, however, plastic bags don’t litter, people do). It is something that on a personal level is very easy to act on. Now of course I have a cupboard of reusable plastic bags (that I mostly use).
Ugly fruit and vegetables point to our obsession with perfect food. Who got us to this obsession is not clear. I suppose we could blame farmers and retailers for putting it on the shelf but it is ultimately we who put it in our cart and then pull out our wallets and pay. There is a bit of chicken and egg in who fetishized today’s food appearance.
Perfect fruit and vegetables look fresh and safe to eat. Anthropologically we are geared to search out food that will not make us sick. Funny looking fruit and vegetables with an awkward shape or with a blemish or bruise may make some of us think that it is microbiologically compromised or more simply is possibly in the process of rotting. Another option is that we are obsessed with pretty things and this has carried over to food. It could also be that our need to source out perfect food is wrapped up in our sense of prosperity and how others view or see our prosperity.
Ugly fruit and vegetables may be nothing more than a little fad like the now probably mummified “pet rocks” (look it up- proof that anything can be sold) or it may (hopefully) be the start of a greater recognition of what the food supply chain provides and what gets thrown out in our developed countries, not because it is not inedible and somehow compromised, but because it does not meet some overwrought sense of aesthetics.
It may be this sense of aesthetics that drives all food waste. We use food as decoration, whether it is how something looks or how much of it gets piled on our plates. Right now ugly decorations are in.