What can the average person do about food waste?

Shop Local, Shop Ugly

You’re at the grocery store near the end of the day, and you notice a lone bunch of romaine lettuce sitting on the produce shelf. What’s your first thought: They did a great job anticipating today’s demand for lettuce—or—What’s wrong with that lettuce?

Customers equate empty shelves with unpreparedness, not efficiency. In essence, we expect markets to carry a ton of food we have no intention of buying.

And notice how all the apples are perfectly round, shiny, and immaculate? Now, recall your last trip to an orchard. Did all the apples look like that? Consumers shop too strictly with their eyes, making visually unappealing produce (often called “seconds”) a big problem for farmers. They’re forced to overproduce, knowing a certain amount of the crop won’t make the grade. As for the seconds, it doesn’t make sense for them to sell the less beautiful produce for less money because it costs just as much to harvest, handle, and transport as the pretty stuff. While some farms are able to blanch and freeze their seconds, many lack the resources to adequately deal with such leftovers.

A solution: buying farm-direct produce. CSAs and farmers’ markets allow for a greater degree of ugliness and help farmers better anticipate demand. Shop at stores that make a point to buy from local farms. Shop with the seasons and lessen your intake of veggies flown in from a hemisphere away. Finally, ask your market what they’re doing with their surplus produce. Your local co-op may well be making an effort to donate to food shelves.

Next page: Make a Plan

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John Garland About John Garland

John Garland is the Deputy Editor at the Growler Magazine. Find him on twitter (@johnpgarland) or in every coffee shop on West 7th Street.

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