Business reduces food waste by providing “ugly” produce to Bay Area residents

Imperfect Produce is a start up company with a mission to end food waste. On Tuesday, April 19, Oakland residents signed up for their services at Vivian's booth as part of an Earth Day celebration at the Oakland City Center. (Aileen Macalintal | Yesica Prado/Oakland North)

Oakland resident Tamia Green was strolling along City Center during Wednesday’s Earth Day celebration when a sign stopped her: “Who you callin’ ugly?” The sign belonged to Imperfect Produce, one of the small businesses that had set up booths that day to promote awareness about environmental problems and solutions. Behind the booth was company representative Justin Vivian, holding a tablet with information about food waste and showcasing the “ugly” fruits and vegetables on the table.

Imperfect Produce is an Emeryville-based grocery home delivery service that customizes a box of odd-looking produce, which grocery shoppers often ignore and farms throw away. According to Vivian, the produce in each box is 30 to 50 percent cheaper than what shoppers pay in grocery stores, and 90 percent of the produce the company sells is grown in California.

The business was launched as a response to food waste. Every year 6 billion pounds of produce in the United States go to waste, according to a report issued in 2012 by the Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit international environmental advocacy group. While producing food on farms uses 50 percent of land and 80 percent of fresh water in the United States, 40 percent of farmed food—worth $165 billion—rots away every year because the produce does not pass “the minimum quality standards in terms of shape, size, color, and time to ripeness,” according to the report.

Green signed up for the box. “Just because it’s imperfect doesn’t mean its bad,” Green said, “We always want perfect things, and one thing I learned is just because it’s nice and shiny doesn’t make it right, because that’s when they put all the wax and the chemicals. So sometimes you don’t want stuff looking too pretty, too perfect.” 

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