In 2014, Jordan Figueiredo, a solid waste specialist in California, launched the @UglyFruitAndVeg Campaign. Teaming up with Stefanie Sacks, a nutritionist and the author of What the Fork Are You Eating?, the pair began a recent petition on Change.org that is demanding unprecedented action from Walmart regarding its food waste.
“What the Fork Are You Doing With Your Produce, Walmart & Whole Foods?” is the petition that is urging Walmart – the largest grocer and retailer in the U.S., with 4,600 stores in the U.S. that sold $167 billion of food last year – to sell so-called “ugly” produce. Conventionally, supermarkets place rigorous aesthetic standards on produce. This means that if produce does not make the grade for its size, shape, color, or other superficial standards, it is simply thrown in the garbage. Nutritionist, Sacks, however, confirms that ‘ugly’ produce is just as nutritious as any produce.
This becomes an issue when you register the staggering statistics behind the wasteful act. More than 25% of produce ends up as garbage simply because it is blemished. This adds up to billions of pounds of healthy, perfectly-safe-to-consume produce that ends up anywhere but in the mouths of hungry people.
How many hungry people, you ask? 1 out of 7 Americans was food insecure in 2014, meaning at some point in the year, they did not have enough to eat, and more than 4 out of 5 families do without produce. On a global scale, the number looks more like 805 million food insecure people.
The U.S. Agriculture Department estimated that 133 billion pounds of food were lost at the retail and consumer ends in 2010, which is almost one-third of the country’s food supply. Going even further, the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) reports that industrialized nations waste 1.5 trillion pounds of food a year, which is almost equal to the total net production of food in sub-Saharan Africa.
Environmentally, wasting food is just not feasible. Not only is food wasted, but the tremendous amounts of energy, water, and chemicals that go into growing food are also wasted. This is compounded by the fact that when food goes to landfills (roughly 40% of all food produced in a year), it rots and emits methane into the atmosphere, which is one of the most potent greenhouse gases causing climate change. To put all this environmentally destructive behavior into perspective, consider that global food waste is the third largest generator of greenhouse gas emissions, right behind China and the USA.
In terms of economics, wasting food is also not practical. According to the nonprofit, ReFED, the U.S. spends $218 billion each year on growing, shipping, and disposing of food that will never be eaten.
Figueiredo and Sacks have already convinced Whole Foods to sell ugly produce through another petition that received 111,620 signatures. In April 2016, Whole Foods launched a pilot program to sell such produce in its northern California locations.
Other grocers have already begun to change their act, such as Associated Food Stores, which sells ugly produce at a 30% discount. Stores in Europe, Australia, and Canada have also started doing the same, selling ugly produce at an average 30% discount. They have been successful, in that they are diverting waste while increasing store traffic and total sales.
With so many people grappling with food insecurity, it is simply unethical to waste healthy and perfectly edible food. If Walmart decides to sell its ugly produce while having the title of being the U.S.’ largest retailer, the act will send ripples throughout the industry.
It is sustainable, economical, and socially responsible to sell “ugly” produce. So what exactly is Walmart waiting for?