Spain’s “Espigoladors” harvest unwanted crops to feed the hungry

Image: Natalia Lázaro Prevost via The Guardian

Spain has made progress in closing food cycle gaps by stopping food waste at its source. The social organization “Espigoladors“, or gleaners, recruit volunteers to harvest rejected farm produce, which is then donated to food banks. Those volunteers who already use food banks are allowed to take home a box of their harvest at the end of the day. Gleaning has long been a tradition in Spanish culture: it is understood to uphold the dignity of the poor by providing them a job of harvesting crops and allowing them to take home a part of their harvest as payment. In modern day Spain, this old practice has been revived and may prove to be effective in feeding the hungry while reducing food waste.

A lot of preventable food waste occurs on farms, where rejected fruits and vegetables are left to rot because of strict aesthetic standards set by grocery chains. However, donating the produce or selling to a different buyer can be expensive or logistically challenging for farmers who often do not have the resources to carry out food-rescue programs. Volunteer programs such as the Espigoladors are needed to move food from the farm to those in need.

In addition to redirecting rejected produce to food banks, the Espigoladors have started a line of products called “Es Imperfect” (Is Imperfect) of jams, soups and sauces made from rescued produce. The label has seen incredible success and the company is looking to expand further.

 

 

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Changing our expectations of “perfect” produce

Image: Dan Tuffs via The Guardian

According to University of Guelph Professor Sylvain Charlebois, imperfect fruits and vegetables that have been rejected by buyers account for about 17% of all food waste in Canada. Produce that does not meet strict aesthetic standards is usually discarded in fields, fed to livestock or dropped directly into landfills, which also wastes the energy and resources that were put into growing the food. However, the blame should  not be placed on farmers, as redirecting food to food banks or other buyers can be logistically or financially challenging. Instead, the issue stems from the unrealistic pressures that farmers face to supply “perfect” fruits and vegetables for consumers.

Initiatives such as Loblaw’s Naturally Imperfect will be a positive step towards raising awareness of unrealistic expectations for fruits and vegetables but some have concerns about how it will impact future market prices. If people become accustomed to buying cheaper produce, the price that farmers can receive for all of their produce may fall. However, if “ugly” produce is treated like its aesthetically pleasing counterpart and sold for the same price, food waste could be reduced drastically.

As any of us who have had a vegetable garden know, not all fruits and vegetables are created the same. Yet, that wonky-shaped cherry tomato is still a mouthwatering addition to a salad, or that red pepper that has not quite lost its green pigment will still make a delicious, healthy snack. In our minds, we know that produce is not naturally uniform and perfect, but we are still presented with rows of impeccable fruits and vegetables at grocery stores. This causes the slightly misshapen or discoloured ones to stand out, which makes us say to ourselves, “that one must not be as good as the rest”. We pass them over in our search for the perfect box of strawberries or bag of apples, and the rest go to waste.

The new rules mean farmers can sell more of their goods and customers have more choice.

Image via CBC

However, new initiatives all around the world are starting to change our expectation of produce. In addition to “Naturally Imperfect,” grassroots start-ups like this group of  Montreal students who sell imperfect produce are reducing food waste, while destigmatizing “ugly” fruits and vegetables.

In an interview with CTV News, Charlebois said that “Mother Nature is not perfect…Over the next few years, people will feel more comfortable and become more educated about what agriculture is all about.”

Although food waste is a multi-dimensional issue, it can be reduced by the direct actions of consumers. We have a lot of power over what is stocked on grocery stores shelves and by demanding “normal” imperfect produce, we can help to change the unrealistic expectations of flawless products and reduce food waste.

 

California company delivers boxes of discounted “ugly” produce to your door

Imperfect Produce-Ugly Produce. Delivered.

(Image via www.imperfectproduce.com

The “ugly” fruit and vegetable movement has been growing in momentum in the past few years, and for good reason. A large amount of food is wasted before it reaches grocery store shelves due to the food industry’s strict aesthetic standards for shape, colour and size of produce. In order to combat this, some grocery store chains are beginning to sell imperfect vegetables and fruits, often at a discounted price. However, there is one company taking things even further.

Based in the California Bay Area, Imperfect Produce delivers boxes of imperfect fruits and vegetables to consumers at 30-50% less cost than “perfect” fruits available at grocery stores. Shoppers can choose from a number of boxes such as all-vegetable, all-fruit or mixed, all of which are available in different sizes.

“In America, 1 in 5 fruits and vegetables grown don’t fit grocery stores’ strict cosmetic standards — the crooked carrot, the curvy cucumber, the undersized apple — usually causing them to go to waste” reads a statement on their website. The issue is also prevalent in Canada, where rejected fruits and vegetables make up to 18% of total food waste. Companies like Imperfect Produce are working to combat this by changing the way consumers think about vegetables and fruit. Along with other “ugly” produce movements, the company hopes to educate people on the benefits of choosing to eat imperfect produce, which has the same nutritional content and taste as its aesthetically-pleasing counterpart.

Christinne Muschi for National Post

Misshapen or discloured peppers such as these are rejected by buyers and often used for animal feed or tossed back into soil. (Image: Christinne Muschi for National Post via Financial Post)

As a home-grown company, Imperfect Produce only delivers to certain areas of California, but the business model would likely prove successful here in Canada, as more and more consumers are aware of the extent of waste in the food industry. Based on the success of initiatives like Loblaw’s Naturally Imperfect, it appears as though Canadians are ready to see the beauty in ugly produce.

You can read more about Imperfect Produce on their website.

 

Food rescue retail

Former president of Trader Joe’s, Dough Rauch, has opened a groundbreaking new type of grocery store: a non-profit model that tackles food insecurity, reduces food waste, and promotes good nutrition.  The Daily Table store opened June 4, after managing to pass the hurdles of non-profit approval and convincing authorities that wasted food can be safe and nutritious food. The shop is located in the low income community of Dorchester, Massachusetts, and provides access to healthy food at very low prices.

produce at The Daily Table

This new initiative is a major departure from more traditional food charities. It is strongly committed to providing nutritious meals that can compete with fast food in its price and convenience. At the same time the retailer is committed to preventing food waste by collecting donated food and selling it fresh or transforming it into ready-to-eat meals.The shop is challenging cheap, unhealthy calories in a way that is financially and environmentally sustainable while ensuring the health and dignity of its patrons. There are many non-profits that serve rescued food, but the distinction here is that Daily Table allows customers a choice – they are not simply recipients. Being in a retail space enables Daily table to be grounded in the community, provide employment and training, as well as make money to cover costs. I’m excited to see how this project will fare as it employs it’s innovative approach to food waste, nutrition, and food insecurity.

Check out a National Geographic interview on Daily Table with founder Doug Rauch  here, or more coverage from NPR.