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How eating ‘ugly’ fruit and veg is a climate solution
Unrealistic beauty standards mean huge amounts of fresh produce never makes it past the farm gate.
Kia ora! Welcome to Future Proof. I’m Ellen, thanks for joining me this week.
Image credit: Wonky Box/Unsplash.
It was Boxing Day 2020 when a huge hailstorm battered the Nelson-Tasman region. Angus Simms and Katie Jackson were there: they’d recently picked up work at a couple of apple orchards. But soon the pair discovered they wouldn’t be able to pick the juicy red fruit, which had been damaged during the intense weather. You might be imagining apples pelted to a bruised pulp, but that was not the reality, according to Simms.
“What was quite shocking was seeing the fruit: it was like the tiniest little speck. It wasn't damaging to the fruit in terms of its freshness, quality, bruising or anything. It was just simply scars and that kind of thing. And we were like wow, this is actually insane,” he says. The idea for Wonky Box was born.
The food waste-climate connection
When food is chucked away, it rots and releases the planet-heating greenhouse gas methane. Around 4% of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to food and organic waste, according to the Ministry for the Environment. In a previous issue of Future Proof, we’ve looked at how food rescue charities are diverting tasty, high quality food from landfill.
Wonky Box operates in another part of the food supply chain: rescuing produce that would’ve never made it off-farm, due to its less-than-perfect appearance. The “wonky” produce is packaged up into a box of goodies and sold to consumers via a subscription service. “It costs a grower the same to grow a perfect piece of produce compared with a wonky bit of produce,” says Simms. The idea is to provide a fair price to both growers and consumers, with the added convenience factor of delivery direct to your door. Plus, climate change is at “the heart of everything” at Wonky Box, Jackson says, since tackling food waste is a particularly achievable climate solution that can make a difference now.
Unrealistic beauty standards
Fruit and veg is rated on appearance using a grading system: grade 1 is perfect, export quality. Grades 2 and 3 might be too small, too big, a weird shape, or too scarred or blemished. Simms estimates that 40% of produce never makes it past the farm gate. Some of the rejects are churned back into the soil as fertiliser, but other times there’s no other option but to leave it to rot. But with emerging requirements for growers to report on-farm emissions, many are seeking to move imperfect produce in novel ways – whether that’s through avenues like Wonky Box or Countdown’s “Odd Bunch”, or through making new secondary products like apple cider.
With the recent summer of extreme weather, Simms says there’s been an increase in rejections for fresh produce deemed not pretty enough. But it’s still nutritious and delicious, and growers still put in the effort to grow it, so why waste it? He hopes to see industry “dress code” standards loosen up a bit, but says it’s not only the supermarkets that are to blame. Consumers too have played a role in driving unrealistic beauty standards for fruit and veg. So perhaps it’s time to rethink our own cosmetic expectations and embrace the wonkiness.
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In animal news: first it was orcas attacking rudders, now it’s Grand Theft Otter, with one rogue sea otter in California committing serial surfboard theft. Local photographer Mark Woodward has been sharing some great photos of the cute criminal on Twitter. The US Fish and Wildlife Service have been attempting to apprehend Otter 841 for relocation, but she remains at large as of writing.
Have an otterly amazing week,
Got some feedback about Future Proof or topics you’d like covered? Get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org