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Is Ugly Produce Killing the Planet?

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

Ani Talwar discusses the issue within our supermarkets. Cosmetic standards dictate what produce is sold on the shelves and how it looks. In a climate crisis and with many going hungry, it's time we stopped caring about what our food looks like in the shop, but instead how we can insure we stop wasting it.

It might be one thing getting a kid to eat Brussels sprouts, but getting a shop to sell them, who knew that would be harder and worse for the environment. It’s not just your run of the mill Brussels either, and that is where the problem lies! Cosmetic standards for supermarkets essentially refers to the fact that most shops have a standard for how ‘pretty’ a piece of fruit or veg has to be in order for them to sell it.

We are all aware that when you stick seeds in the ground, the result isn’t going to be identical, and also that despite this, most of your carrots or apples taste good anyway (that is if you’re a fan of apples or carrots of course). However, major chain supermarkets are creating lots of food waste by refusing to acknowledge this.

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Why won’t supermarkets mainstream wonky produce?

Supermarkets are responsible for 85% of all grocery stores, and so have a real ability to drive supermarket waste down. Instead, they’re responsible for 37,000 tonnes of produce waste every year. This is equivalent to 16% of ALL crop yields. 

That’s enough to provide five-a-day of fruit and veg to 250,000 people for that year. But it all goes to waste, because it’s not pretty enough. In fact, supermarket cosmetic standards are the biggest cause of food waste, especially as farmers cannot even sell their ‘faulty’ food anywhere else. 50% of them admit that they overproduce to compensate for the fact that they know a whole load of their produce will be denied, and as we’ve learnt, supermarkets control 85% of grocery shops, so farmers can barely go anywhere else with their rejected veg.

In fact, 41% of farmers have admitted they can’t even voice their concerns for fear they’ll end up with nobody buying their produce at all, which means a third of all food grown, never even makes it to your plate.

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⅓ of all food grown never makes it to our plates

In global terms, this means that if we added up all the emissions/pollutants for food waste, and portrayed the numbers as you would for a country, food waste itself would rank globally as the third largest greenhouse emitter. In fact, of all climate conservation ideas that have been proposed, controlling food waste has been deemed in the top three most effective.

Even our meat production contributes to this, beef production being the cause of almost 75% of deforestation, which is the biggest cause of deforestation in the Amazon. And this only includes land cleared for pastures, not feeding etc as well! In fact, in 2013, cattle ranching was the reason behind deforestation of forest the size of Washington.

Whilst you may not be able to single-handedly alter the entire global beef industry, making the statement of buying wonky veg could most definitely go a long way to reducing greenhouse emissions and increasing farming productivity. Besides, when everyone cooks the same uni meal, it will make yours stand out! Who else is going to have an L shaped carrot?

About the Author: Ani Talwar can be found at @Mischief.weavers, she wrote the book ‘ATRO- CITY THE FLOOD’ and cares passionately about sustainability.

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