Reilly Brock spreads content that shows people the true beauty of ugly produce. Imperfect Produce helps people get access to affordable, healthy, delicious produce while reducing food waste.
There are initiatives to repurpose or redistribute food popping up in various countries, trying to reverse the sad story of ugly fruit. Why are projects such as Imperfect Produce gaining ground more now than ever?
Well, the food waste issue has not been very transparent to the average consumer, but once you start to unravel the operations behind the scenes, there’s so much more that you find out. And once you discover how the system works to produce this waste, you begin to see many more areas of opportunity to pick apart the system and make improvements.
Let’s talk about the suppliers, the farmers you work with to source ‘ugly’ produce and deliver to your customers. Are these mainly large farms with a lot of surplus produce? Or are they smaller farms that don’t use pesticides and therefore have less standardised fruit and veg?
It’s a mix of both, and can change week to week depending on who has the most potential waste, what people are buying (or not buying) during a certain season, weather abnormalities, as well as who is fun to work with.
On your question of using pesticides: what I’ve learned is that creating ‘beautiful’ produce is not chemistry, but strict mathematics, the way you plant it. The way it interacts with the soil and the surrounding plants. More and more farms are realising this, and reducing their use of chemicals.
And how do farmers react to your solution?
Farmers put a lot of input (water, energy, time) into their land. If their produce ends up going to landfill, or to feed cattle, this is not an optimal outcome. If we, or anyone for that matter, can provide a tangible output, then it’s not difficult to get them on board.
I was speaking to Nick Balla, a chef who repurposes surplus food to create meals, and he believes it’s sometimes beneficial to leave produce in the ground, as fertiliser for the soil.
What are your thoughts on this?
Oh yeah, Nick’s a good friend of ours! It’s true that putting produce back into the ground is not a total ecological loss, as it returns nutrients to the soil. But there are other options. If you check out the EPA food recovery pyramid, you can see a list of priorities for food production. Right under surplus reduction is feeding people, then animal feed, followed by composting, with landfill at bottom.
Is food waste an issue that can be solved from the bottom up, or must change be implemented through regulatory measures?
The issue is not polarising. My personal opinion is that change needs to happen everywhere, and every actor needs to take action. Will one person buying differently change much. Absolutely not. We need businesses, governments, and agricultural companies to act differently. Large grocery operations are definitely part of the problem, so they are beginning to find ways to donate more stuff they can’t use is. The ReFed graph from Dana Gunders is pretty eye opening.
Where can individuals put their energy for a positive impact?
Cleaning out their refrigerator. Food waste is a problem of the developed world. We have huge refrigerators, and people take that for granted. People overlook their personal inventory, forget what they already have but it’s not done out of malice. We need to change the paradigm of cooking from a recipe to cooking from what you have left in your fridge. Take stock of what you have. This would be one change to ask of home cooks. If Imperfect Produce wasn’t focusing on food waste, which issue would be the one to focus on?
There are so many other types of waste. Water waste. Every sector of our society produces waste, and there are innovative and delightful ways to optimise. I think many people are out of touch. Gardening brings you back in touch with what food is, and you start to appreciate its beauty.
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