Whether the farmers market or produce section at the supermarket, I have to admit to being a grabby shopper, always poking, pinching, and squeezing fruits and vegetables looking to uncover flaws. Because who wants flaws? I only want the most perfect looking carrot or potato to take home, chop up, and cook beyond recognition.
Sometimes I’m legitimately testing for ripeness (I’m lookin' at you, avocados!). But most often I’m typifying the American consumer by feeling entitled to the best at all times: the fluffiest florets, the most vibrant colors, and the most unblemished skins.
Apparently, because I’m only one of 300 million Americans, this has created an enormous opportunity for food waste. Or so goes the premise behind Imperfect Produce, a growing nationwide delivery service claiming 6 billion pounds of agricultural product go rotten each year, uneaten. We’re talking about stuff that doesn’t even make it to food banks.
Imperfect launched in San Diego in mid-September, delivering CSA-style boxes to local homes. You order through a web site, first deciding whether you want fruit only, vegetables only, or a mix of both. You choose the size of your order, ranging from “small” box furnishing 7-9 pounds, to extra large, packing 23-25 pounds. Conventional ugly produce starts at $11 for a small box, while for $15 you can upgrade to all organic (and non-GMO), scheduled to deliver weekly or every other. The service claims to be 30-50-percent cheaper than grocery stores, and a couple of quick comparisons on my part suggest a box can be on par or cheaper than local CSA options too.
Where it really goes after CSA ability to customize. While availability of certain produce changes by season (this is true, look it up), here you can add things you like, while putting the kibosh on things you don’t (see you never, cauliflower!). There are even $3-6 add-ons for olive oil made from ugly olives, and brown rice milled from rice that doesn’t apparently meet size standards, or some such silly complaint. If you do such add-ons, with the $4.99 flat delivery fee, a small box can total $25. And it won’t seem very small at all.
Upon receiving the box at home, this is the general response I had. Also: this stuff is just not that ugly. Yes, one of my oranges had a flat tire on one side. The broccoli had an imperfect stalk. The acorn squash had scars. One of the cucumbers hooked at the end. The sweet potatoes looked entirely too funny, but let’s be honest, it’s when they don’t that we start to worry.
I would eat this stuff. I have been eating this stuff. The flawed skin peaches were delicious, scoring a metaphorical victory for adolescents across America. I ate them peel and all, and sucked on the pit. They never would have made it into the grocery store, and if services like this keep cropping up, I may not be make it into the grocery store much either.