Why Is It Ugly? — Week of July 25

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When you customize your box of Imperfect produce online, we state next to every item why it was considered too “ugly” for grocery stores. I’m sure many of you are familiar with the typical issues by now — size, shape, scarring, color, and surplus.

I’d like to tell you a little more about what some of those categories mean. An important part of tackling food waste is educating folks on the specifics of why it happens. While those categories might be relatively self-explanatory to some, there is a greater depth of causality we can explore.

Some of my friends have told me they find it hard to believe the produce we sell would have gone to waste. “This stuff doesn’t look ugly at all!” they exclaim. “No way this is going to waste, I don’t believe it.”

Perhaps, sometimes, you feel you fall into that camp, too. And I wouldn’t blame you. In our eyes, the produce we get is still perfectly beautiful and fresh!

Still, sad as it is, the various cosmetic reasons for waste that we communicate are the unfortunate reality. (And we are truly grateful to all our subscribers for helping us cut this waste back and shine a spotlight on the issue!) Below, I explain bit more about how and why “ugliness” occurred for a handful of the items we offered last week.


Avocados — Too Small

Even though the avocado market is very tight and expensive right now, the avocados we acquired last week were too small for both retail and for processors. Sometimes foodservice will buy them, but only if they can’t get larger sizes.

Mature avocados, like people, come in all shapes and sizes. In addition to natural variety, there are some climatic and seasonal variables that can affect the size of avocados. Typically, high July temperatures cause many fruits to fall, but if the summer is unseasonably cool, combined with low rainfall, the existing fruits will mature more slowly and remain on the tree even while new fruits emerge. This results in a higher number of individual fruits on each tree, but each fruit will be a bit smaller.

The optimal California Hass is around 8 ounces, or half a pound, but these small avocados can get down to 3 or 4 ounces, or smaller, even!

Our avocados last week were 96 to a case, compared to the typical 28 or 36 to a case. The flesh is just as tasty as larger ones, you just have to peel and scoop 2 or 3 times as many for the same bowl of guacamole!

Or, as is the case for me, the small avocados might be the perfect serving size for a meal, so maybe you simply use one whole fruit and that’s enough. As a result, you won’t find a browning half-avocado in your fridge a week later! (It’s okay, we’ve all done it; brings tears to the eyes when you discover it, doesn’t it?)

The smaller size, in this way — whether for avocados or for any of our small produce — can actually help you cut down on food waste in your own home. Some of the produce in grocery stores is enormous; too much for one meal, certainly.


Acorn Squash — Color (“sunburn”)

Wasting squash that is sunburned is a perfect example of retail specs that make no sense at all.

Last week, our acorn squash had some orangey-yellow patches. Too much sun causes the green skin to yellow in over-exposed areas of the squash. There is virtually no difference in eating quality, shelf life, and nutrition between pure green and sunburned squash. It is the cult of perfection run amok.


Kale — Surplus (just too much!)

When the weather is good, there is always a surplus of leafy greens. Growers regularly overplant by an average of 10% as a hedge against weather conditions or disease so they can always fill their orders. The kale that we bought would have otherwise been disked last week because the growers didn’t have enough customers to buy the surplus. (“Disking” is a process whereby a tractor plows the crop back into the ground with a bunch of heavy, spinning metal disks.)

So, in this case, the kale you get from us is, in fact, beautiful enough for the grocery store, there was just more grown and harvested than there was demand!


Oranges — Color (“greening”)

Valencia “regreening” does not indicate unripe fruit. Rather, regreening is the fruit’s reaction to overly warm temperatures. Warm weather can force the skin of Valencia oranges to reabsorb chlorophyll, the pigment in plants that gives them their green color, causing ripe fruit to turn partially green.

If you cut one open last week, to eat or to make juice, I’m sure you experienced a fruit just as delicious as its more cosmetically-fortunate tree-mates. The reabsorption of chlorophyll may make them look a little less appealing, but it does not affect the flavor or juiciness of our fresh, ripe Valencia oranges.


More examples like this to come… !

I hope to post every other week about the causes of “ugliness.” Keep an eye out for some more juicy educational material!

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