Imperfect Produce has hit my Facebook feed in the last few weeks, spouting all kinds of wonderful moral reasons why I should love these orphaned fruits and vegetables and feel good about myself. Being a lifelong person who believes in zero population growth, not wasting anything, and recycling everything, I decided to check it out.
How it worked.
First and foremost, the price of ugly food did not seem out of whack with what I could get at the grocery store. They deliver once a week and I have a couple of days to specifically choose which produce I wanted. On the other hand, the choices were somewhat limited to what was being harvested now, I guess. In this case, that meant no imported items that I can find in the store such as grapes from Chile or bananas from South America. That is completely reasonable considering I’m supposed to be supporting American farmers.
What I got.
I wound up ordering include carrots, mandarin oranges, fingerling potatoes, small apples, onions, and lettuce. Nothing looked horrible. The potatoes were a little spotty with bug eaten sections but still very usable. The apples and oranges were extremely small but very tasty. The carrots were just carrots, not malformed at all. I could have picked up an identical bag off of the grocery market shelf. The one disappointment was the very wilted lettuce, which I eventually threw away. I suspect it came in such sad shape because it was a wintery day and the Imperfect Produce delivery person had kept it in some kind of too-cold storage unit, like his trunk. The lettuce had partially frozen.
Nothing lasted as long as the store-bought equivalent fruits and veggies. I’m assuming that was because big corporation food produces use chemicals to make their perfect fruit last longer while this company didn’t do so.
Therefore, the experiment was a mild success so far. The downer side of vegetable delivery to the house was that I had to be better about my meal planning. I usually knew a week’s worth of stew on Monday, chicken on Tuesday kind of thing but never planned down to the side dishes. That was a case of opening the frig or freezer while the meat cooks and thinking, “what is about to go bad or sounds good tonight?”
Why I feel guilty.
However, three days after I ordered my produce box from Imperfect Produce, a report came out about how companies like this are hurting food banks. What?! I’m taking food away from those that need it more? Of all the worthy charities out there, I think food banks and food related systems ranks among the highest in importance and I support them the most. People always needed feeding.
I suddenly felt like a Lex Luther-style corporate mogul. My convenient middle class-supported home delivery service was actually hurting others that needed the food much more than I did. They probably lived in food deserts whereas I could put my lazy butt into a car and drive to a number of quality grocery and super stores in under 10 minutes.
It really bothered me so I cancelled the next delivery.
Ugly Food Issues
But the more I read, the more complex the issue looked. Here is an article from Food & Wine that describes the dilemma. Why the Business of Ugly Produce is so Complicated.
Food waste is a huge issue. I appreciate Imperfect Produce and other companies addressing this issue. I also want to support farmers who always struggle to make a profit. When they must give the ugly chunks of their harvest to food banks, it hurts their bottom line. But the impact of these companies on food banks is real. The companies like Imperfect Produce are simply banking on our moral feelings and social consciousness, which is not a fun idea either. I hate being manipulated. Thus the conundrum.
What do you think, dear readers? To buy or not to buy ugly food in the future? I honestly don’t know, but the one thing I understand is that food banks will need our help more than ever. So maybe it matters less where I buy my fruits and vegetables and more how often I cut a check to the food bank or (as my grocery store does) buy a bag of food for the locals who can’t afford it. If this trend of big business banking on our moral feelings continues, their profits will soar while the poor starve. The food banks will need us more than ever before.