Perfect, Ugly Produce

I’m a product of a grocery industry that determines the shape, size and color of the fresh foods I eat. That is ridiculous, isn’t it? Why do my tomatoes have to be round? Why do my carrots have to fit into a 10-inch long plastic bag? (Well, I guess we can’t blame the grocery industry, right? They are just giving the consumers what they demand.)

I grew up and lived in the United States for my whole life, so I never saw misshapen produce in the supermarkets. Unusual shapes and sizes came in the garden, and–I’m sure it’s no surprise–the flavor doesn’t change just because of the shape. I grew the carrots below in my garden, and they were tender, sweet and delicious.

I know in America we have a bit of idolatry surrounding perfectionism–even down to fruits and vegetables. That perfection worship became crystal clear when I moved to Bahrain, where perfect produce is not a value for most people. It was an eye-opener when I first saw so many misshapen and imperfect items for sale in all the stores. For three years, we have seen stores full of beautiful and crazy-shaped fruits and vegetables.

I purposely buy the craziest specimens I can find, for I want to make sure our supermarkets keep carrying these beautiful, perfectly ugly and healthy foods.

For More Reading

The Guardian “Half of all US food produce is thrown away, new research suggests”

Huffington Post “6 Billion Pounds of Edible Produce Is Wasted Every Year, Just Because It’s Ugly”

Imperfect Produce – Buy “ugly” produce for half the price in the Bay Area in California, and they will deliver it right to your door.

Just Eat It | A Food Waste Story – A documentary film

National Geographic “How ‘Ugly’ Fruits and Vegetables Can Help Solve World Hunger”

NPR – “To Tackle Food Waste, Big Grocery Chain will Sell Produce Rejects” – They may market them as the ‘underdogs’ of produce.

16 thoughts on “Perfect, Ugly Produce

  1. Finding the perfect in the imperfect. What a metaphor for our life, right? Thanks for this……some of my children discard bruises. It drives me crazy. Waste not.

    1. It is a great metaphor for life. We are all imperfect, no need to focus on ours and the imperfections of others.

      I remind myself of my mom these days when she used to take the barely edible (in my opinion). Now I am much less picky. I don’t like to see food go to waste.

      Thank you,

  2. Did you know, HyVee stores in Iowa now have a section for imperfect fruits and veggies!

    1. Deb, I hadn’t heard that. It’s great that there is a growing market for the fresh food that used to get wasted.


  3. Very interesting! I have never thought about our demand for perfection even in our produce. But you are right! Fun slice today — thank you!!

  4. fun, informative (stealth ed) and definitely not your usual still life (maybe the Cabbage Patch dolls of still life?)

    My mind jumped from there to the art genre — and whether that influenced food aesthetics. More likely the influence was advertising and commercial photography, surely influenced by the art form

    1. Yeah, I guess I am such a teacher at heart. I keep finding myself adding links to learn more. What’s with that?

      Anyway, it’s fun to try to write every day and experiment with different ideas.

      I like the thinking about art, advertising and commercial photography. I hadn’t thought about it before, but now that you mention it, I think Renaissance artists liked unique pieces in their still life paintings. It adds character, including the occasional fly or wilted flower, etc.

      I think modern advertisers have bewitched us.


  5. Denise, I never saw crazily-shaped fruits. I do like the shapes of gourds in the fall and buy weird looking ones because they appeal to me. Thanks for the great photos that I will remember.

    1. Carol,
      Thanks for stopping by. I should keep taking pictures of my full of character veggies and fruits–mostly it is vegetables–come to think of it.


  6. It’s true! I have lived outside of the US for almost half my life by now, so I have sort of forgotten that. When my son visited at Christmas he noted that the bananas sold here would never be allowed to still be on display in the US. Thanks for helping us to notice today.

    1. Thanks, Erika. Yes, it seems so normal and fine to take them as they grow. One day there was a boatload of double cucumbers. I picked out as many as I could find. They made a very cute set of eyes when sliced. It just makes sense to enjoy the variety of naturally grown food.


  7. I agree. In North America you rarely see misshapen produce in our stores. Some stores are starting to stock Ugly produce but with limited selection.
    Have you seen the documentary Just Eat It? It won a number of awards at film festivals.
    It is fabulous.

    1. Thank you for sharing that, Heidi. I added it also to the list of resources in my post. I haven’t seen it yet, but I will make an effort to do so.


  8. We don’t realize how much goes on before our food is even brought to the store. Thanks for the reminder that nature is perfect in all of its shapes, sizes, and colors.

    1. I like that, Aileen. Perfect in all its shapes, sizes and colors. Why not just accept them? Otherwise, we get more picky and spend too much modifying everything about our food.


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