*First impressions aren’t everything; beauty is only rind-deep, after all.
Our senses affect the way we enjoy food. People often base their culinary preferences on a food’s texture, taste, and smell. But before you get it onto your fork, you have to get it into your cart, and that step relies heavily on visual appeal. In stores, we do our best to not touch any products we’re not buying, and so our sight has become the sense we rely on most when purchasing.
When shopping for our foods, our eyes do the tasting. Yes, tasting.
An article in the journal Behavioral Scientist dove into our food purchasing history and described how nowadays “...we often make assumptions about food quality based largely on how they look, rather than factors that affect taste and nutritional quality, such as how much time has passed after fruits and vegetables were harvested and meat was cut.”
This raises the question: Can we rely on our eyesight to buy what’s best when we’ve been raised to want the shiniest, most perfectly formed food? When we have associated oddly shaped vegetables and fruits as being mutated or defective in some way, it takes a mental shift to give ugly food a chance. But, it might just be worth it.
Good for the Earth
According to a report by Second Harvest, nearly 60% of Canada’s food production goes to waste. This includes produce that can’t be harvested, is left on farms or is lost in distribution because it doesn’t meet specific grade standards, such as uniform shape and colour.
There's a buildup of methane gas created by the excess food in our landfills, and more than 10% of those greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions could be reduced if we limit food waste worldwide. By purchasing misshapen food directly from local farms, we could substantially reduce food waste, overproduction, and provide more land for wildlife to thrive.
Good for Us
Often the uglier foods — the ones with scars and scabs — are symbols of flavourful and nutrient-rich foods. Similar to the ‘ugly duckling’ effect, it may not seem like the best option at first, but beneath the surface, the scarred food has great potential.
According to a NPR report, an experiment conducted by Eliza Greenman compared scabbed apples vs. un-scathed apples and found that the scabbed apples had more antioxidants than the latter. And while hearing ‘scabbed fruit’ isn’t the most appetizing, it often tastes exactly the same and, in some cases, can be more delicious.
As an added bonus, we don’t have to feel bad about juicing, dicing or smashing those beautifully symmetrical, gleaming fruits and vegetables! From the fun, “What shape is this?” game, to the plating of your nutritious dish, naturally imperfect produce can turn out to be the perfect addition to your meal.
Good for Our Communities
In Canada, food waste and food security are major environmental and social issues, which means there is a huge opportunity for producers, grocers, and consumers alike to do great work with ugly produce.
For larger farms, imperfect food that can’t be sold can be sent to canning companies, sold to local restaurants, or donated to homeless shelters. It’s financially difficult for smaller farms to donate food or sell at a lesser cost, so they often turn to ugly food delivery boxes. Local buyers can make a difference in reducing food waste.
For consumers who are looking to stand up for the misfit foods (or reduce food waste), try asking your local farmers about some of the ugly produce they offer. Let them know you love their unique products and will be happy to purchase them. Scars, scabs, bumps and all.