‘Imperfect Produce’ Pilot at Cal Dining
If you’ve ever worked on a farm or in a garden, or walked through a farmer’s market, you have probably encountered a fruit or vegetable that didn’t quite look like the ones you find at Safeway or in other supermarkets. Maybe it was slightly too small, maybe it had some bruises, or maybe it was just a bit misshapen.
Maybe it was one of those deformed carrots with two “legs” that look like those Giant’s-orange pair of pants your roommate owns but only wears during the World Series or when the Broncos win the Superbowl.
If you had the opportunity, I hope you devoured this perfectly imperfect piece of produce and found that it tasted just as good or, in my opinion, even better than those that seem at times too perfectly identical.
In the United States, one in five of these character-filled “imperfect” fruits and vegetables are thrown away, often on both industrial and organic farms, because they don’t fit the cosmetic standards of conventional supermarkets.
With nearly 40% of food produced being wasted in the U.S. either because of these cosmetic standards or other often-avoidable reasons, our food system is in need of a change.
In a 2012 report by the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC), it was found that agriculture in the U.S. consumes around: 10% of the U.S. energy budget, 50% of arable land, and 80% of our freshwater resources. Yet, Americans are throwing out upwards of $165 billion in food every year.
Aside from this major waste of our country’s resources, food waste is contributing to another environmental problem that many people are unaware of: global climate change. Despite the increasing accessibility of compost bins around UC Berkeley and the Bay Area, 95% of food waste in America ends up in the landfill. In fact, food waste is the largest component of municipal waste in the U.S.
Many people believe that this food waste decomposes just as it would in a compost pile, unfortunately, the conditions in a landfill cause food and other organic matter to break down anaerobically (without oxygen). When organic matter breaks down anaerobically it turns into methane that then finds its way to the surface of the landfill and into the atmosphere. As you may know, methane is a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more efficient than carbon dioxide at trapping solar radiation (heat) in the atmosphere.
So, how do we solve this problem?
Well, one solution on the rise is the Bay Area startup known as Imperfect Produce.
Imperfect Produce fights to end food waste by “finding homes” for “ugly” produce, while providing extra revenue to California farmers by buying the produce that they would not otherwise be able to sell. Imperfect Produce provides boxes of produce straight to your door for around 30-50% less than the produce you buy in the supermarket.
Imperfect Produce made a splash on campus last semester, partnering with numerous student groups and campus organizations such as Cal Dining, UC Cool Campus Challenge, Undergraduate Public Health Coalition, the Greeks and more. You may have even encountered a couple of Imperfect’s team members tabling on Sproul or giving presentations on campus about food waste.
The NRDC believes that if the U.S. lowered its food losses by just 15%, 25 million more Americans could be nourished every year. At a time when 1 in 5 Americans are considered food insecure, this potential “increase” in food supply could be extremely important for addressing food insecurity in the U.S.
By providing fresh produce at lower prices, and working with CalFresh to increase their accessibility to low-income families by accepting EBT (food stamps), Imperfect Produce is working to address both the issue food waste in the U.S. as well as food insecurity in the Bay Area.
On campus this semester, Imperfect Produce is piloting a program with Cal Dining to provide fruits and vegetables for the produce stand outside of Golden Bear Café. Through this program, Imperfect Produce can now be purchased for meal points! This pilot program is meant to test students’ receptivity to this “cosmetically-challenged” produce by seeing if students will purchase it and thus, if it could be a successful long-term program for Cal Dining. There is even potential that Cal Dining will begin offering/using Imperfect Produce in other locations beyond the produce stand if the pilot is successful!
Here is an easy opportunity for students to vote with their meal points in support of the fight against food waste. Check out those beautifully imperfect carrots, apples and oranges next time you are on Sproul and support Imperfect Produce!
If you live off-campus or no longer have meal points and are interested in checking out Imperfect Produce boxes, browse their website for information on prices, sizes, customization and the NEW organic box that they just rolled out! Use the discount code “ROMAINECALM” to get a $20 credit for your first box!