Does Your Box of “Ugly” Produce Really Help the Planet? Or Hurt it?

Emily Atkin | The New Republic | Jan 12, 2019

Startups like Hungry Harvest and Imperfect Produce say they’re helping to reduce food waste in America. Critics say they’re deceiving their customers and making the problem worse.

The following is an excerpt. To read the full article at The New Republic, please click here.

As these delivery services have grown, though, so have their critics. In an op-ed last year for The New Food Economy, the heads of two food-justice nonprofits in Oakland wrote that Imperfect Produce “reflects a very troubling trend … that commodifies and gentrifies food waste.” The company, they argued, is not in the business of food waste so much food surplus: It buys excess products that farmers can’t sell to supermarkets, but could sell to restaurants, canned and processed food companies, or, as a last resort, donate to food banks. “The stuff in these boxes is not ending up in a landfill,” co-author Max Cadji, the founder of Phat Beets Produce, told me. “They’re just tapping into the same marketplace as the guys who make shredded carrots.”

If the vegetables inside these boxes were never destined for the landfill, then the growth of ugly-produce companies threatens to make the food waste problem worse, according to co-author Eric Holt-Gimenez, the executive director of Food First. The companies, while well-intentioned, are now competing with the other players in the surplus market, incentivizing farmers to overproduce to meet that demand.  “The reason we have so much waste in the first place is because of overproduction,” Holt-Gimenez said. “This is a way to capitalize on overproduction and increase the flow of waste.”

The solution to food waste, then, is not to normalize and monetize ugly produce. It’s to create a system where excess food isn’t produced in the first place. How can venture capital-backed companies contribute to that goal when they profit from industrial agriculture’s overproduction? Wouldn’t the growth of these companies, in fact, make the problem worse by providing yet more reason to overproduce?

To read the full article at The New Republic, please click here.

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