50% Of America's Produce Is Wasted Due To Unrealistic Food-Beauty Standards

It's no secret that America's obsession with unrealistic beauty standards has affected people nationwide and beyond — but did you know that our preoccupation with aesthetics includes our food too?

Per a recent article in the Guardian, there is research to suggest that one whole half of the nation’s produce likely ends up in the trash, not because it’s rotten or unsafe to eat, but because it doesn’t look pretty enough.

Essentially, Americans employ a “cult of perfection” mindset when it comes to consumables: vast quantities of fresh, safe-to-consume produce grown in the U.S. rot in the field, are fed to livestock, or simply hauled from the field to a landfill due to our cosmetic standards.

Produce ends up lost in fields, warehouses, supermarkets, restaurants, fridges and during packaging and distribution because retailers demand perfection in the produce they buy.

Jay Johnson, who ships vegetables and fruit from North Carolina and central Florida, told the Guardian: “It’s all about blemish-free produce. What happens in our business today is that it is either perfect, or it gets rejected. It is perfect to them, or they turn it down. And then you are stuck.”

More than two dozen interviews showed farmers, packers, truckers, food academics and campaigners and more describe this horrifying food waste as occurring “upstream”, meaning that scarred, bruised, or otherwise blemished produce — that still has nutritional quality — is often abandoned in-field to save on labor and harvesting expenses.

Then, if you calculate retail waste, close to half of all produce grown is lost.

“I would say at times there is 25% of the crop that is just thrown away or fed to cattle,” Wayde Kirschenman, a potato and vegetable farmer near Bakersfield, California, told the Guardian. “Sometimes it can be worse.”

“I can tell you for a fact that I have delivered products to supermarkets that [were] absolutely gorgeous and because their sales were slow, the last two days they didn’t take my product and they sent it back to me,” an anonymous owner of a mid-size east coast trucking company added to the Guardian. 

“They will dig through 50 cases to find one bad head of lettuce and say: ‘I am not taking your lettuce when that lettuce would pass a USDA inspection.’ But as the farmer told you, there is nothing you can do, because if you use the Paca [Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act of 1930] on them, they are never going to buy from you again. Are you going to jeopardize $5m in sales over an $8,000 load?”