Standort: / Meldung: "Ugly fruit and wonky vegetables"

Steve Crilley

God, what's happening in the world! A reality check on the web.

9. 4. 2016 - 06:00

Ugly fruit and wonky vegetables

A Reality Check on the food we waste because it doesn't look perfect.

FM4 Reality Check

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Food Waste

Each year, 1.3 billion tons of food are wasted. But how much of this is down to us rejecting food because we simply don’t like the look of what we see; maybe the carrots aren’t so smooth or straight, the bananas don’t look as ripe and the tomatoes appear a bit off colour. So we don’t buy them, or the manufacturers won’t even select them to appear in the supermarkets and these products get thrown on the scrapheap.

However, the less than pure looking fruit and vegetables are very often just as fresh, edible and nourishing as the more aesthetically pleasing variety. And we are adding to that global pile of food waste simply by putting that rather bendy looking courgette back on the shelf.

I spoke with Rhi Willmot, a researcher in Behavioural and Positive Psychology, at Bangor University in the UK. During her master’s degree in Consumer Psychology she opened a pop-up shop selling 'ugly' fruit and vegetables.

So what did you discover about what we reject and why?

An important point here is that many people don’t actually realise how much is being wasted. I set up a pop-up shop selling ugly fruit and vegetables last year, it gave us the chance to talk to consumers and it left us feeling astounded about how much food was being rejected not because there was anything wrong with it, but simply that it looked slightly funny.

Tell us more about that ‘ugly’ food shop.

Along with a friend, and we are not expert food sellers or anything like that, but we hooked up with a local company and they brought us all of the ugly foods that weren’t being sold by the local supermarkets and we got quite a range of things; we came across things that were just slightly mis-shapen so carrots with two legs, wonky strawberries that looked a bit weird, there was all kind of foodstuffs we took in.

Is it supermarkets or just the customers dictating the desire for the perfect potato of the most beautiful looking carrot?

Probably both. We do have natural impulses to look favourably on things that are naturally symmetrical or unblemished. So I think when people are shopping for food it is generally things that are not so perfect that get left on the shelves. And supermarkets have done a lot to enhance that notion. There’s no need to produce so much fruit and vegetables and then only select the best out of that. At the end of the day, ugly fruit & vegetables are generally perfectly OK to eat and I think people would be much happier to think that there isn’t such a huge amount of food being wasted, whilst putting a funny looking vegetable in their basket.

Can we relate any of this to theories of human attraction?

Most theories of human attraction tend to suggest we find people with symmetrical features more attractive, than people with asymmetries. That’s thought to be because it had been assumed that physical asymmetries came about through diseases occurring during physical development. So the idea is that evolutionary, it is better to select a mate with a symmetrical face since that signifies they have healthier genes and any offspring are likelier to be more healthy. I think you can see some parallels between those theories and our choices of fuit and vegetables. But the evolutionary advantages aren’t relevant to fruit and vegetables. So we may have those underlying preferences for symmetry in mate selection. However, in the context of selecting fruit and vegetables, symmetry doesn’t provide any advantages.

Do you think the future is a yes to wonky veg and ugly fruit?

Yes, I hope so. I think a huge benefit I see is that more and more people are becoming aware of the wastage of what’s going on. Once that awareness takes hold, there could be real pressure on the supermarkets to start selling these ugly foodstuffs. I hope that the current awareness is not just a fad with people getting excited and the trend tailing off.

This Saturday's Reality Check

Find out more about what’s being done to reduce the staggeringly high numbers connected with all the unwanted stuff. Reality Check presents how to make the most of our food, this Saturday at 12 noon on FM4.