Imperfect is perfect when it comes to produce

Once upon a time in a college cafeteria, an ambitious student decided to make a difference. Ben Simon, CEO of Imperfect Produce, launching in San Diego on Sept.17, noticed an astonishing amount of food being wasted and created the Food Recovery Network (FRN) to give food to shelters and food banks.

Along the way he met Ben Chesler and together they founded Imperfect Produce, a company aiming to reduce food waste and show people the beauty and lip-smacking goodness of “ugly” fruit. (Which isn’t actually ugly, by the way.) The company is making a real impact, recovering over 30 million pounds of food in three years and donating more than a million pounds of food to local food banks, nonprofits and churches.

The National Resources Defense Council and Feeding America reports that over 20% of produce in America is discarded, wasted or plowed over in the fields leaving 6 billion pounds going unharvested or unsold every year.

Tony Masco, vice president of Midwest Operations, identifies part of the problem as the “grocery store beauty pageant.” He said, “That carrot that has the twisted legs, that bell pepper with a streak of yellow, the grapefruit that isn't perfect or the kiwi with an indentation. It is all beautiful, delicious produce. But because there are certain standards for the grocery store, it never makes it there.”

According to Imperfect Produce, which is also available in San Francisco and Los Angeles markets, there are six major factors for why a fruit or vegetable is disqualified from market as imperfect or “ugly.” They are size, asymmetry, scarring, discoloration, surplus and lack of a consumer market.

So what happens to those wonky tomatoes, too-skinny asparagus or crossed legged carrots? Often these underappreciated but fully nutritious foods are left to rot or are plowed back into the ground.

To stop the hemorrhaging of wasted food, Imperfect Produce sends team members into the fields to create working relationships with farmers, to educate both them and the consumer on viable produce, and as Masco states, “to help sustain the farmers that struggle in this country.”

When launching into new cities, the company seeks out places to donate, including the local food bank and churches. Tony said, “We aren’t going to waste the food! It's a critical piece of our mission. We want to make food accessible to all.”

Now that Imperfect Produce is rolling into San Diego, a number of collaborations have been set up to welcome the company, including a craft beer with Modern Times’ Andrew Schwartz incorporating Imperfect pears and lemons, and Puesto’s October Taco of the Month, which will include Imperfect squash and greens. Look for the Modern Times beer to be released in late September or early October, along with other restaurant pairings to be announced. In addition, Imperfect Produce is teaming up with Feeding San Diego as the local food bank partner.

For those ready to dive into Imperfect Produce home delivery, there are 65 to 70 items available per week, and customers can choose all fruit, all vegetables, organic, traditional, or a mix. Delivery is 100% customized, and the price is based on what gets put in the box. On average, prices range from $13 to $20 weekly, or bi-weekly if preferred. Monthly service is also available, with all deliveries including a $4.99 fee.

To embrace imperfection and nab more information on getting started with Imperfect Produce, visit imperfectproduce.com

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