Talking Ugly Fruits and Vegetables with Food Waste Hero Jordan Figueiredo

August 10th, 2015


Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 5.37.03 PMIn the US, roughly 40% of our food supply is wasted – and a lot of it is perfectly ripe and healthy produce. The problem? It’s ugly. The same imperfect fruits and vegetables you might see at the farmer’s market just don’t make it to the grocery store. We caught up with Jordan Figueiredo to learn more about why.

Figueiredo is a passionate advocate for ugly produce. He started out posting pictures of deformed fruits and veggies with funny captions on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram; before long he was receiving pictures of “uglies” from enthusiastic followers around the world and sharing them with over 25,000 total followers. Food celebrities like Michael Pollan, Jamie Oliver, and Alice Waters sat up and took notice when Figueiredo made waves with posts about dancing carrots, grumpy peppers, and potatoes that look like rubber duckies.

Meatless Monday: What got you interested in food waste here in the US?

Figueiredo: Working in solid waste, I’ve dealt primarily with a lot of recycling and composting projects. That’s where I started seeing all the food that was being thrown away. Even with composting you’d see a huge amount of healthy, fresh food going to waste instead of being eaten. But consumer-end waste is a small part of the picture compared to waste in the food industry. About half of all food waste happens at the farm and in transit or distribution, it never even reaches the shelves or a restaurant, let alone a plate. Most of that waste comes from retailers’ strict cosmetic standards for produce. We produce more than enough food for everyone to eat healthfully, but we still have hunger and we have massive food waste.

 

Ugly StrawberryMM: What are some of the benefits of eating the “uglies” instead of letting them go to waste?

Figueiredo: Uglies are really the same as other produce, so there are of course health benefits to eating more of them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just released a report where they found that only 13.1% of American adults are eating enough fruit and only 8.9% are eating enough vegetables. That’s fewer than one in five adults eating enough produce to be healthy, all while we’re throwing out tons of produce.

Then there are the environmental benefits – about 10% of human-made greenhouse gas emissions come from producing, transporting, storing, and preparing food that never gets eaten. Producing food takes a huge investment of time and resources; wasting food means that effort was also wasted.

There are also economic benefits. Retailers are beginning to experiment with selling uglies in their own section at a discounted rate. Everyone wins with this set up, since the store makes money on a product that would otherwise be a loss and consumers gain access to healthy food at a reduced cost.

 

MM: What would you say are the public misconceptions about uglies?

Figueiredo: There is a certain amount of wondering if a weird piece of fruit is diseased, but the biggest misconception I see is that people think all rejected produce is really deformed, like the stuff I post on Twitter. Most rejected uglies aren’t that ugly, they’re just not the standard retail size. That means normal-looking foods like apples and cucumbers get tossed out for being an inch too tall or too short, without ever seeing the inside of a supermarket. Home-growers and people at the farmers market are already comfortable with uglies. If we could get reject produce in grocery stores at a discount or in its own section, more people would get comfortable seeing, buying, and eating it. That would be great for health and the environment.

CharlieBitMeMM: What gave you the idea to make your posts about uglies funny?

Figueiredo: I was really inspired by the humor and light-hearted nature of Intermarche and Marcel Agency’s Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables campaign in France, and of course by the number of funny produce pics that were already out there. I thought “look how much attention Intermarche and Marcel brought to this issue with one campaign and one series of commercials. Maybe a constant, every day, social media campaign could do the same or even raise more awareness since it’s something people can see, have fun, and think about, every single day!”

The funny quips and hashtags that started for me at some point in January were just what I saw in the produce and thought would be funny to add to the image to make it even more memorable. Plenty of people have posted images of funny produce but, by making a joke, or statement, or reference to pop culture or human looks or traits, you can make an even deeper connection.

MM: Which vegetables tend to look the weirdest, or make the best posts?

Figueiredo: Oh, carrots are my favorite. There are so many pictures of weird carrots that look like people, I could post about them all day. I have to focus on other vegetables so my followers don’t have wind up with just pictures of carrots. Daikon radishes are also popular, some of them really look like people. One recent post looked like it was actually posing for the camera, it was very popular. With cherries in season now they’re pretty popular too, with little growths and weird shapes.

MM: What’s your favorite item at the farmer’s market?

Figueiredo: Pluots, or plucots, are just so sweet and tangy. I love them! They’re in season and they’re everywhere right now.

Pluots/plucots are a blended fruit: a cross-breed of plum and apricot. If you like either fruit, try these seasonal delights!

MM: Do you participate in Meatless Monday? What recipes do you recommend for meals that put the spotlight on produce?

Figueiredo: Yes! I do practice Meatless Monday. I try for it every week. Sometimes I slip up on Monday, so if that happens I make up for it on Tuesday. For meals I try to keep it simple – I spend most of my time on advocacy work, so that doesn’t leave a lot of time for cooking. I like simple meals, a bean and cheese burrito or a salad with tofu tossed in are my staples.

Make your own bean burritos this week for a fast and easy meatless meal.

 

At the heart of this campaign, there’s a call to action.

Seeing more ugly produce in the market (instead of the trash) means more healthy produce on the table. With more healthy produce available it gets even easier to cut out meat once a week and replace it with tasty meatless meals. To find out more about ugly fruits and vegetables and the projects Figueiredo is working on, click here.

Have your own uglies to share? Snap a picture and tag @UglyFruitandVeg and @MeatlessMonday on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Want to learn more about food waste? Visit the Sustainable Table: Introduction to Food Waste page from the Grace Communications Foundation for more information and tips on taking action.