Imperfect is Just Perfect

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You’ve likely heard the sad statistic that up to 40% of US food goes straight to the landfill. Meanwhile, 1 in 8 Americans go hungry every day, yet even the wealthy don’t meet their daily fruit and vegetable needs. Fortunately, programs such as Imperfectly Delicious Produce (IDP) exist and can help reduce those statistics.

IDP was started by the Compass group about 5 years ago. The program aims to reduce food and water waste by “rescuing” or buying “not so perfect” fruits and vegetables that would otherwise get tossed in the landfill. The program is being run in 16 states with 5 more ramping up to join. The IDP program is often used in hospitals, corporate cafeterias, college campuses, senior living centers, and restaurants, just to name a few. The program may help to support local farmers, reduce food waste and support water conservation in states experiencing drought.

One chef in California, Juan Acosta, endured a drought. Through the use of IDP produce, water was conserved and local farmers were helped concurrently. Jeffrey Miller, Cincinnati Chef and Founder of Fourth Harvest LLC states, "I think we need to move beyond the classification of produce as 'perfect' or 'imperfect' and find interest and excitement in whatever food we have to cook with. Yes, it will take a little re-training of your pre-conceived notions of what is/isn't visually appealing or perceived as safe to consume, but that's why we were all born with a sense of imagination and wonder -- let food of all types be your brush and canvas."

Chefs are not the only ones using IDP. Cincinnati-based grocery giant, Kroger, has implemented a program called “Zero hunger, Zero waste”. According to Kari Ambruster, Project Manager for Zero Hunger, Zero Waste, Kroger, “Kroger launched Zero Hunger | Zero Waste in 2017, our social impact plan to end hunger in our communities and eliminate waste in our company by 2025. We believe food should always be used for its highest purpose – to feed people. We also realize that when food is wasted, it also wastes the precious resources that went into the creation of that product. Annually, we support our communities with more than $190 million in hunger relief, which includes 100 million pounds of perishable food rescued from our stores. We also reduced the amount of food waste generated at our stores by 9% in our first year of Zero Hunger | Zero Waste.”

Kroger has a few programs through Zero hunger, Zero waste. They offer “zero waste” recipes on youtube in addition to Fuel NKU, which offers students at Northern Kentucky University discounted produce, toiletries, and other items directly on campus. This program is provided through the Zero Waste Foundation. The Zero Waste Foundation also provides foods to a food bank in Montgomery County through their food rescue program. In addition, consumers may find discounted produce. At several Kroger stores, there is a small section in the produce department for marked down produce. This could be anything from a few bruised apples to 3 to 4 zucchinis beginning to wrinkle. Produce is packaged and priced at $1.00 per package.

Michigan-based Meijer grocery stores also offer imperfect produce. You can find bell peppers, bags of onions, slightly bruised tomatoes and other items at 40% of the normal price. Discounted baked goods may also be found there.

Non-profits are taking advantage of imperfect produce availability too. Cincinnati-based Katy Nardolillo from La Soupe states, “Since our founding in 2015, La Soupe has been fighting food waste and hunger with our 'Rescue. Transform. Share.' program. We bridge the gap between the two by rescuing perishables from local retailers and distributors, transforming this food into delicious, nutritious meals, and sharing with customers, non-profits, and food-insecure families. La Soupe rescues approximately 8,000 pounds of food per week. We donate approximately 6,500 servings of transformed food per week, in addition to 4,200 pounds of directly donated produce per week.

Jennifer Yencha, a biobehavioral health major at Pennsylvania State University volunteers with Al Beech food Pantry with dietitian Clancy Harrison, Founder of Food Dignity. Yencha states, "Don’t judge a fruit by its peel. Produce gets delicious with time and inner sweetness is all that matters. So, welcome your bruised, unusual, and overripe fruits and veggies. If you do, together we reduce food waste and fight hunger."

Canton local schools have also partnered with Perfectly Imperfect Produce of Cleveland. The company rescues produce from local farms and wholesalers that is unable to be used or sold to stores because of imperfections such as differences in sizes, shapes and colors. Produces is sold in cases by subscription. Ashley Ritz, nutrition services and wellness director for Canton Local Schools found that Imperfect’s prices were often lower and she could offer a subscription to parents without them having to pay the shipping fee. The company also offers recipes to use with their produce.

Dietitians can assist their clients in reducing food waste and using imperfect produce in the following ways:

  • Teach clients about the benefits of buying and using imperfect produce
  • Encourage clients to shop from local farmers and other vendors.
  • Advise clients on following a budget and using a list at the grocery to reduce over-buying.
  • Teach clients how to store and use excess produce instead of throwing it away
  • Provide recipes for soup, casseroles, smoothies, stews and other dishes using imperfect produce.
  • Educate teachers and school administrators about programs available in their communities to reduce food waste and feed hungry kids.

By Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD

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