Last week Hannaford launched a pilot program offering discounted produce. Shoppers can now find a selection of “misfits” at a considerably reduced cost. Modern grocery stores have been known to perpetuate an unrealistic standard of beauty for our produce, resulting in an uncomfortable amount of food waste. Hannaford taking this step will help reduce food waste at the resale level. It will also provide Maine consumers with a much needed alternative to the pricey perfection that has dominated shelves for decades. Most importantly, it will remind people that growing food isn’t an exact science and that’s a good thing.
Offering misshapen or blemished produce for less has been practiced at farm stands for years. Too many string beans today? Put them on special. Spotty apples? Price them for pies. The hope is that everything grown and harvested will be sold or eaten by somebody. A lot of farmers I know sell their ugly produce for a super low price or they use them up to feed their own family, saving the real stunners for store shelves. Both the stunners and the ugly produce are nutritionally identical and grown a mere few feet away from one another, nonetheless, they are ultimately priced by prettiness. But if farm stands have been selling their ugly produce for years, why are grocery stores just now offering it?
Americans like their fruit to be fully stocked and at Beyoncé-level of flawlessness. According to an NRDC report “Many customers select stores based on the quality of perishables, and therefore retailers feel compelled to have only produce of perfect shape, size, and color.” It is in a grocery store’s best interest to make sure they are stocked to the brim with many uniform options for you to select, each more or less identical to the next. This way every customer will feel as though they are getting the best quality every time and will keep coming back.
For generations, we have slowly become a population that has forgotten that our food has a life before we take it home and most likely burn it. Fruits and vegetables are living things and living things come with differences, with character, and sometimes with flaws. That’s what life does to you it gives you scars and it gives you stories. Your experiences whether human, cat, or rutabaga will leave you different than your neighbor, which is in my experience, that’s really where the flavor comes from.
We have an Instagram filtered relationship to food now. Picture perfect examples for fresh fruits and vegetables are competing for our attention and money. It’s easy to see how we have been conditioned into thinking that perfect produce is not only abundant at all times but also a requirement for home use. We have also been moved further and further away from the source of our food. Forgetting that it grows in dirt, and bugs will try to it before we can. By showcasing the misfit produce our grocery stores can begin to serve as a better reflection of a more sustainable food system. By purchasing misfit produce we can help our grocery stores know that we want to reduce food waste and that we know the quality of somethings isn’t necessarily found in uniformity.