Most of us don't reach for that gnarled carrot or slightly bruised apple when selecting our produce at the local supermarket, but that's exactly why Americans waste up to 40% of edible food every year. This staggering number is what sparked the "ugly food" movement, and has inspired a number of companies to sell misshapen fruit and vegetables to consumers, rather than throwing it in the trash.
One San Francisco organization is taking a unique approach to this idea. The Salvage Supperclub hosts fancy dinners inside retrofitted dumpsters where they serve dishes that have been entirely prepared with food that would've otherwise gone to waste.
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Josh Treuhaft, founder of these ugly food dinners, originally coming up with the idea as part of his master's thesis to bring awareness to America's food waste problem. "The Salvage Supperclub is about inspiring and empowering people to make the most of the edible food in their lives. There is untapped potential in their food that for some reason, not to their own fault, is going to waste," he told Seeker's Laura Ling.
Treuhaft isn't alone in his effort to reduce America's food waste. A change.org petition last year called for Whole Foods to become part of the ugly food movement, and this past April they announced a partnership with Emeryville-based Imperfect Produce to sell misshapen fruits and veg in select Northern California stores. There have been pilot programs with several other grocery chains as well including Giant Eagle in Pittsburgh and even Wal-Mart sells bags of ugly apples at some of their Florida stores, branding them with an "I'm Perfect" label.
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Selling imperfect produce is still relatively rare right now, which can be partially attributed to a supply issue rather than a lack of willing participants. Raley's, a Sacramento based grocery chain, started an ugly food pilot program called "Real Good," but discontinued it after 90 days saying they had "some challenges sourcing the product." A grower might have large amounts of ugly produce one year due to inclement weather, but much less the next year if the weather has been more ideal. Harvests constantly vary and retailers are more likely to buy ugly produce in bulk rather than just a few pounds at a time.
This is why organizations like Imperfect Produce and Salvage Supperclub are playing an important role in the prevention of food waste. Even if a grower has had a particularly good year, with lots of glamorous fruit and vegetables to sell to retailers, there will always be some uglies leftover. Salvage Supperclub takes it a step further by not only buying the ugly produce, but turning it into a gourmet dining experience as well.
At the Salvage Supperclub dinner that Laura Ling attended in San Francisco, the menu consisted of kale rolls stuffed with sweet potatoes and chickpeas, a romesco sauce made from stone fruit, and ratatouille with summer squash, tomatoes and eggplants cooked down with garlic and spent red wine. Everything was made with produce that would've otherwise been thrown out, proving to consumers that you can make delicious, healthy meals with less-than-perfect ingredients.
As for what he wants to accomplish with Salvage Supperclub in the future, Treuhaft says he hopes it will ultimately help fight hunger. "I think a food system where we don't have people who are struggling to get a square meal despite the fact that we're throwing all this food away; that's an aspiration that we should constantly fight for because everybody needs to eat."
-- Molly Fosco