South by Southwest (SXSW) is Austin’s biggest annual event. It’s a conference and festival covering new technology, interactive, music, film, entertainment, and more. It features keynote speakers like Barack & Michelle Obama, Bill Gates, Michael Dell and other prominent politicians, actors, authors, CEOs and innovators. And it draws companies, entrepreneurs, and curious consumers from all over the world. I was photographed at the Wellness Expo segment of the event last year, and my picture turned up on the event’s home page this year: check it out!
So what was the Good Food Fighter doing at SXSW?
- I was raising awareness for my cause. (It’s hard to ignore a bright green superhero.)
- I was finding out what’s new in the health and wellness arena.
- I was looking for good, innovative products to bring my readers.
I’m excited to share my finds with you! The next few posts will be dedicated to great products and services that may enhance your life.
I meet all kinds of interesting characters at these events. Sometimes they even have the same hair as mine! This time I met “Shine Jesus” who is part of the Cannabis revolution. He sells golden rolling papers. Medical marijuana and hemp are becoming more mainstream and showing up in supplements, food, candies, and body creams everywhere. I will be writing an article covering this industry soon. Does your hemp product contain the amount of CBD oil that it claims to? Probably not. In the meantime, here we are discussing our nutritional philosophies….
What else did I find? Ugly and misshapen fruit.
Did you know that one in five fruits and vegetables grown in the U.S. don’t meet cosmetic standards for grocery stores and end up going to waste? Farmers can’t sell discolored or scarred produce so it often decomposes in the field. Imperfect Produce buys what farmers can’t sell elsewhere so that they are compensated for their full harvest and there is no waste.
What exactly does this fruit look like?
- too big or too small to fit standard crates or a harvest of uneven sizes that will look inconsistent on a supermarket shelf
- asymmetrical or oddly shaped, like bell peppers that can’t stand straight up or curved celery.
- blemishes and scarring. Weather conditions alter produce. Hail damage or a cut from a branch can change its appearance.
- inconsistent color. One side of a fruit often faces the sun and another doesn’t. Sometimes the color is different where a vegetable touched the ground.
- surplus. Sometimes produce goes to waste just because the market is over-saturated and grocery stores don’t want any more.
But hey guys, none of these attributes affect the taste! Consumers are simply accustomed to perfect looking produce, but it does not make it any better, sweeter, or more nutritious. In fact, there is some evidence that scarred fruit has more nutrients; the human body increases blood flow to a wound, and similarly, plants adjust to environmental stress by increasing the protective antioxidants to its fruit to ensure its survival. How about that!
Back in college, Founder and CEO Ben Simon saw that a lot of food was being wasted in the cafeteria. He founded the Food Recovery Network (FRN) which fights food waste and hunger by donating food to those in need. FRN is now on 180 college campuses. Along the way he met Ben Chesler and together they founded Imperfect, with the goal of preventing waste on a national level. Ron Clark, the third person to join the trio, helped create a program at the California Association of Food Banks that uses 125 million pounds of ugly produce each year. Their goal is to bring this model to citizens all over the world.
How it works
- Make a meal plan so that you know exactly what to order and nothing will go to waste.
- Choose what you want from their inventory of in-season produce.
- Items are sourced directly from farms with no middleman.
- A box arrives on your doorstep each week on the assigned delivery day (You can skip weeks if you need to.)
- Save about 30% on typical grocery store prices.
- Become part of the solution!
What does Imperfect Produce have to say to their critics?
I have encountered some valid complaints about this business model so I asked Imperfect Produce some tough questions. Here are their answers, from spokesperson Reilly Brock.
The brown boxes create waste.
That’s true. But the GFF hates “going shopping”, which adds to Austin traffic and greenhouse gasses, so I order everything online. I even ordered a broom online, and of course it arrived in a huge box. This was truly wasteful and would normally bother me. But every few months I donate all my boxes to someone who’s moving (through my neighborhood list serve), so they all get reused. You can do this, too.
There’s less food for food banks.
Farmers often donate their unsellable fruit to food banks. Imperfect Produce is diverting it to consumers. But donating to food banks means time and energy to harvest produce that farmers are not getting paid for. Imperfect donates thousands of pounds of food to foodbanks and to its nonprofit partners every week—over 2 million pounds to date—and many of the recipients report an increase in volume. Imperfect also offers a reduced cost box for anyone that qualifies for food stamps in order to make fresh produce more affordable and accessible to everyone.
Some produce comes from “factory” farms.
Imperfect works primarily with medium and larger growers since these are the ones with the most potential food waste. 78% of their growers are family farms or cooperatives, 6% are farmer advocates, 13% are wholesalers, and 3% are corporate farms. These national percentages also apply to Texas. About 40% of produce going to Texas consumers is Texas grown and the company is continuing to expand its network of Texas growers. Check out the farms page to find participating farms.
This system exacerbates food waste.
There is some concern that this business model encourages farmers to overproduce when there is already a problem of uneaten food going to waste.
Today, growers routinely have to over-plant by 10-30% each year so they have enough “pretty” produce to fulfill their contracts with big retail chains. In other words: to feed 100 people, you have to grow enough food for 120. This requires extra land and water usage. By creating demand for ugly produce, grocery stores will start relaxing their standards (Kroger already has!) and farmers will feed more people with the current amount of produce (or plant less and use a higher percentage of their harvest).
Imperfect is making the system more efficient by utilizing more of what farmers already grow. According to best estimates by ReFED and Feeding America, 20 billion pounds of produce are wasted each year. Imperfect has recovered 40 million pounds of this in 3 years. Overproduction doesn’t appear to be an issue.
To feed a global population of 9 billion people by 2050, experts agree that we need to find ways to use more of what farmers are already growing. Imperfect Produce is addressing difficult challenges and finding innovative solutions in the marketplace. I believe that the benefits offered by this model outweigh any disadvantages.
Bottom line? I think this is a great idea and I’m all for it. I hope that you will check out their website and give it a try using the discount I’ve negotiated for my readers. Be sure to comment on your experience in the comments section! If you live outside the United States, stay tuned, because they are growing fast and may expand into international markets.
- CREATE your personal account at: www.imperfectproduce.com and select your box options for type, size, and delivery frequency.
- ENTER code FOODFIGHTER50 at checkout to receive 50% off your first order. Customize your box when you receive your “customization window” email.
- ENJOY perfectly delicious imperfect produce!
Coming up: more discoveries from the show.
- a better yoga mat (you probably don’t realize how toxic yours is!)
- a tasty gluten-free cauliflower-crust pizza!
- the first fresh-food vending machine
- best turmeric tea I’ve found yet
- mushrooms are the new kale—and now they’re in tasty drinks!
- my new favorite chocolate bar
- a better conditioner—even untangles my hair, so it will definitely untangle yours.
- plants that clean the air
- clean soaps made from beer!
- probiotic deodorant (who cares if it’s probiotic? you might ask)
- vegan jerky (you won’t believe what it’s made of)
- cannabis: CBD or hemp? Is it legal?