Approximately 72 billion pounds of food is wasted annually in the US—from every point in the food production cycle.

In an attempt to lower this number, a new crop of companies has emerged over the last couple of years. Companies that are on a mission to get people to eat misshapen, deformed, and strange-looking fruits and vegetables.

Venture capital-backed businesses like Imperfect FoodsFull HarvestHungry Harvest, and Misfits Market aim to create a new channel of distribution for farmers, offering customers ugly produce at a discount to what the groceries would cost at retail.

But Sarah Taber isn’t buying it. She thinks the ugly food movement is bending the industry narrative and has taken it upon herself to fill people in on the bigger picture.

In 2019, Taber, a crop scientist who worked on farms for a decade, doing everything from detasseling corn to beekeeping, and is now consulting with several greenhouse and indoor agricultural companies, published a Twitter thread to share her thoughts.

More info: Twitter

Image credits: Cajsa_Lilliehook (not the actual photo)

Image credits: SarahTaber_bww

Ugly food has always been around. Like all living beings, produce isn’t always perfect. Not to mention all the shipping and handling that goes into the modern food supply chain, where things get banged up. Some people act like ugly food is a horrible tragedy that’s preventable, but really, this is just the nature of fresh produce.

“The way the food system mainly used to deal with perishability … was by canning and freezing produce,” Taber told Vox. “[But] the sustainable food movement [changed that]. They came around and said everyone needs to eat more fresh produce and should know where their food comes from. This has turned into an expression of a cultural crisis: its created anxiety.

“People now panic if they don’t know where food comes from, and the constant messaging about how you “should” reinforce the anxiety. Any time people are having these anxieties, marketers take advantage of it. But the market-based solutions that marketing endorses don’t fix the root cause.”

In an interesting move, Imperfect Foods diversified into other grocery categories, like dairy, meat, and pantry items. Some of these are still “imperfect” products, like coffee beans that were too small or misshapen almonds, but others are not.

Image credits: sarahtaber_bww

Image credits: SarahTaber_bww

Image credits: SarahTaber_bww

Image credits: SarahTaber_bww

Taber is skeptical of ugly food companies’ chances to contribute to the common good. “They say that a lot of the ugly produce goes to waste. But there’s a huge part of that produce that goes to food service, where it gets cut up and appearance doesn’t matter,” she pointed out.

“Honestly, I think these companies just found a good hustle that makes them look good and makes money. There’s nothing morally wrong with that, but to go out and say, “I’m saving the world and I’m fixing a food problem,” when there are actually better solutions is really disingenuous. It’s just a profit-oriented solution.”

Image credits: SarahTaber_bww

Image credits: SarahTaber_bww

Taber stressed it’s important that shoppers stay true to themselves. “If you’re buying ugly produce and it’s working for you, that’s fine. Keep doing it. Don’t feel guilty. That’s how food systems are supposed to work — it’s supposed to get what you want.”

But you should not feel obligated to buy ugly fruit because someone told you it’s going to save the world. It’s not, according to her, it’s just supporting someone’s business model.

Image credits: SarahTaber_bww

Image credits: SarahTaber_bww

Image credits: SarahTaber_bww

Image credits: SarahTaber_bww

Image credits: SarahTaber_bww

Image credits: SarahTaber_bww

Image credits: SarahTaber_bww

Image credits: SarahTaber_bww

Image credits: SarahTaber_bww

Image credits: SarahTaber_bww

Image credits: SarahTaber_bww

Image credits: SarahTaber_bww

Image credits: SarahTaber_bww

Image credits: SarahTaber_bww

Image credits: SarahTaber_bww

Image credits: SarahTaber_bww

Image credits: SarahTaber_bww

Image credits: SarahTaber_bww

Here’s what people said after reading Taber’s thread

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