Local Product Essay

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If I received a Hungry Harvest box every other week, I reasoned, I’d be saving 260 pounds of fruits and vegetables from being wasted every year.

And even if I wound up throwing away half of my box, it would still be a net environmental benefit because the produce would have been thrown away otherwise—or so I thought.

In an op-ed for The Washington Post, Frischmann wrote that reducing food waste will ultimately require American consumers to “enow delivers boxes in six cities on the East Coast, and CEO Evan Lutz says he plans to expand the business “to 30 more cities over the next four years.” Imperfect Produce—founded in 2015 by one of Lutz’s original business partners, Ben Simon—serves 10 West Coast cities, as well as Baltimore and Washington, D. Simon envisions Imperfect delivering in company, they argued, is not in the business of food waste so much food surplus: It buys excess products that farmers can’t sell to supermarkets, but could sell to restaurants, canned and processed food companies, or, as a last resort, donate to food banks.

“The stuff in these boxes is not ending up in a landfill,” co-author Max Cadji, The solution to food waste, then, is not to normalize and monetize ugly produce.

“It’s really a minority of it.”I don’t have the exact figure for how much comes from Big Ag, however we define that,” he said.

“I can tell you it’s not a lot.” The average farm the company buys from is under 500 acres, he said, and he insisted that all of the fruits and vegetables in Hungry Harvest boxes would have gone to waste, either by getting thrown out, composted, or left in the field. How can Hungry Harvest promise that a farmer wasn’t going to sell her bruised cucumbers to a different surplus company, or donate it to a food bank?

“To me, calling that ‘commodifying food waste’ is a gross misrepresentation of the heart of this problem, which is good food not getting eaten, and a negligent dismissal of the climate implications if we don’t do something about it.”Simon did concede to two points: that Imperfect Produce sources from large-scale industrial producers, like Dole, and that not all of their fruits and vegetables are destined for the landfill.

“We’ve been transparent from the beginning that a small portion of the produce we buy may have had a previous market, and may not have been wasted,” he said, adding that non-wasted food only accounts for about 5 to 10 percent of their products.

When we spoke in December, he said the loss was “probably closer to 50 or 60 percent.” He can’t prove the decline is because people decided to switch to Imperfect Produce.

But CSAs in other cities where Imperfect is thriving are reporting Cadji also believes Imperfect Produce is doing “sneaky little things to undercut CSAs”—like, for example, advertising itself as a “CSA Style Box.” He said this is misleading, and has the potential to lure away potential CSA customers who believe they’re signing up for something similar.


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