Have you ever painstakingly handpicked over a selection of tomatoes in the super market, selecting the one that really grabs your heart and soul, feeling a little guilty about the less-than-beautiful little buggers you’re leaving behind? Ever wonder about what happens to the ugliest of all produce that didn’t pass the Instagrammable test, or at lease the aesthetic standards of massive grocery chains?
Well, it’s actually a pretty big problem, above and beyond aesthetics. Our tendency towards purchasing only the prettiest produce means that quite a bit of perfectly edible food ends up wasted. Ethics aside, this has a pretty detrimental impact on our environment.
We reached out to Jas Banwait, head of marketing at Flashfoodbox, the company that has launched the Ugly Produce Box, to find out a bit more about the importance of ugly food and how we can do our part.
Where did the idea of an Ugly Produce Box come from?
I’ll back up a bit and first tell you about how we got into it in the first place. Flashfood is actually an app that we launched at Farm Boy in London, Ontario locations. We offer steep savings on surplus food or food that is approaching its best before date through our app. That means that grocery stores throw away food that is 3 to 5 days before its best before date (which is NOT an expiry date, by the way).
That food is still perfectly fresh and becomes destined for the landfill. We divert it to our “Flashfood zone” which is a fridge and shelf in store where people can view items on our app, buy them and pick them up in store. This led us to start Flashfoodbox and tackle the problem of “number #2” produce (produce that does not meet the aesthetic guidelines of grocery stores) which also gets thrown out.
The idea came from the CEO, Josh Domingues, who received a frantic call from his sister who is a chef one day, upset about how she had to throw away $3000 worth of food after a catering event. This got him thinking about what a ludicrous problem this actually was. He came across a statistic that changed his life and got him to start Flashfood:
“If International food waste were a country, it would be the third leading cause to GHG emissions behind the US & China” – National Geographic (March 2016)
Image of ugly produce in an “Ugly Produce Box”
What are some of the environmental implications associated with unnecessary food waste?
When food gets thrown out, it usually ends up in a landfill, gets covered by other garbage and rots. When this happens, the food doesn’t have oxygen and the decomposition process produces methane gas. Methane is one of the gases that contributes to greenhouse gas emissions that affect climate change.
Do you have any statistics or numbers on how much food or produce gets wasted each year in Canada?
One third of the world’s food ends up in a landfill. That’s 1.3 billion tons of food wasted every year. In Canada, $31 billion worth of food is wasted every year in Canada.
Where does the produce come from for the Ugly Food Box?
We’re currently focused on rescuing food from the landfill. We’re working with a farm in Leamington, Ontario called J.C. Fresh Farms Ltd, which includes its own number 2 qualified produce and sources the rest from their network of greenhouses and other partners across North America.
In addition to subscribing to a service like Ugly Produce, what other tips do you have on how to avoid unnecessary food waste when purchasing from a grocery store?
-Meal prepping and planning is really important as it will help you buy perishable food that you will be consuming in that particular time period
-Food organization is really important before, during and after your grocery trip in the sense of looking at your fridge and seeing what’s available, making a list to see what you need for that week and then organizing your fridge based on oldest to newest. Don’t hide things in the back that could easily spoil.
-Don’t bag food or food items and than randomly put them back in a different spot. Typically misplaced food items all get thrown out rather than restocked.
-Take reusable produce bags with you when shopping!