Quebec minister of agriculture Pierre Paradis recently made a big announcement: So-called “ugly fruit”—the misshapen fruits and veggies that normally wouldn’t pass muster—can now be sold in grocery stores across the province. Perfectly shaped apples and potatoes will share shelf space with double-pronged carrots, misshapen pears, crooked cucumbers and hideously disfigured eggplants.
This is an important move to reduce food waste, one that’s already been embraced by major chains like Walmart, Whole Foods and Loblaws. Both have said that more ugly produce will be popping up on their store shelves. According to Paradis’ announcement, a 2010 study found that almost 10 percent of fruits and veggies are discarded in the field, just because they’re ugly, so this could go a long way to helping reduce food waste. At least, that’s the impetus behind it.
It begs the question, though… Why did the province of Quebec have an actual law against selling them, in the first place?
A weird-looking strawberry. Image: Pete/Flickr
“The Regulation had the purpose of standardizing the appearance of products for sale,” Paradis said in a statement (in French), adding that “it was no longer current, and should evolve based on consumer expectations.”
Quebec’s not the only jurisdiction that’s reevaluated its regulations against imperfect produce. Consumers are increasingly pushing for this, in response to the growing awareness of the huge problem of food waste. After all, oddly shaped fruits and veggies are still completely edible.
In 2008, the European Union relaxed controversial rules that banned weirdly-sized or misshapen produce from being sold. (The commissioner of the time called it “a new dawn for the curvy cucumber and the knobbly carrot,” according to the BBC.)
Tomatoes? Image: Teresa Wright/Flickr
Companies have also faced outcry from consumers: Walmart’s move followed a petition on Change.org asking that it and Whole Foods embrace ugly fruits and veggies. In the US, almost 26 percent of all produce is thrown away before it even gets to the grocery store, just because it looks weird by grocery store standards, it says. (The petition had 111,620 signatures.)
It’s a noble effort to feed more families and reduce food waste, but the truth is, companies are making a profit off the ugly fruit trend, too. One group of BC potato growers marketed their misshapen spuds by calling them “Farmer's Keepers,” and suggesting these are the prized bounty that farmers feed their own families, according to a report in Canadian Grocer. “Ugly fruit can mean a pretty profit,” another says.
Carrots. Image: Brett Forsyth/Flickr
But there’s no need to get too cynical here. Ugly fruit might actually be one of those rare moments that makes for a win-win, all around: Consumers will get used to eating less-than-perfect produce, thereby generating less food waste, which is better for the environment and more. And, sure, companies and farmers make a profit off stuff that would otherwise be thrown away.
Either that, or people will get totally turned off by all these funky fruits and veggies popping up on store shelves, and just switch to Soylent instead.