We talk about eating ugly fruit and vegetables from a food waste perspective, but there may be an even more personal reason to reach for that blemished apple. Ugly produce might just be more nutritious, and it’s definitely better for the planet.
Eliza Greenman is a long-time apple farmer and self-described ”farmer activist.” She also makes hard cider from the apples she grows. Greenman has been growing apples for a long time, and she’s passionate about conservation and reducing food waste. But for her, the food waste issue is about more than keeping food out of our landfills. That’s an important part of why we need to embrace ugly fruits and vegetables, but it’s not the only reason.
In an unofficial experiment, Greenman tested blemished and unblemished Parma apples from her orchard and found that the ugly apples contained more sugar. That means that the ugly fruit was better for making the cider that she produces. She says that blemished produce, like the apples she tested, may also be more nutritious.
It comes down to stress. Greenman told NPR’s The Salt that ugly fruit gets blemished because it’s fighting pests and disease. That causes stress on the plant, and there’s some good evidence that this stress results in more nutritious fruits and vegetables.
On her own blog, Greenman recently dove into a number of unconventional reasons to eat ugly produce.
- Beautiful produce pollutes the water. To make produce beautiful, farmers have to keep pests and fungus at bay. That means spraying gallons and gallons of essentially unnecessary pesticides and fungicides on crops. These chemicals get into waterways, causing pollution.
- Beautiful produce is not diverse. To get uniform-looking fruit and veggies, farmers grow fewer varieties. They stick to the prettiest ones. That’s bad news for food biodiversity and food security. Since the 1900s, diversity in our food supply has shockingly dwindled from hundreds of varieties for each crop to dozens at best. Bananas are a good example of how biodiversity loss threatens the future of food.
- Ugly produce is healthier. Ugly produce grows under more stress, and the plant responds by feeding more nutrients to the fruit. In another post on her blog, Greenman points to a study supporting this idea. It’s definitely an area that needs more research, but so far, results favor ugly produce.
- Beautiful produce costs more. Our obsession with perfect-looking food means that farmers aren’t selling as much of what they grow.
Luckily, eating ugly is catching on. A number of companies now sell products made from blemished fruits and veggies. A company called Fruitcycle is using ugly fruit to create nutritious snacks, and Misfit Juicery is turning it into cold-pressed juices. You can also get sauces and chutneys made from ugly produce from the company Rubies in the Rubble. One California company is taking ugly food advocacy a step further. Rather than processing blemished produce into something else, Imperfect Produce offers it up for delivery at affordable prices.
As a shopper, the best place to find blemished produce is at the farmer’s market. Many grocery stores won’t accept imperfect fruits and vegetables, but at the market, farmers have the freedom to sell what they grow, no matter how it looks. Next time you’re shopping for apples at the farmer’s market, maybe don’t pass up the one with a few blotches and spots on it.