A cutting-edge program to rescue flavorful but cosmetically imperfect produce from going to waste on farms and during distribution
Bon Appétit Vice President of Strategy Maisie Ganzler was standing in a supplier’s California organic strawberry field that had just been harvested when she spied quite a few strawberries left on the plants. “They’re white shouldered,” the farmer told her. “They weren’t ripe yet, so the pickers leave them.” She was shocked to find out they would never be picked — even though 80% of the strawberry was a luscious ripe red and would have tasted great in fruit salad or a smoothie.
Visit any abundant growing region, such as California’s San Joaquin Valley, and you may see entire fields of perfectly good fruits, vegetables, or greens getting disked under, returned to the soil rather than picked. Over 40% of the edible food in the United States goes to waste each year, both pre- and post-consumer; a large portion of that waste happens before the food even reaches our plates.[i]
Vast amounts of produce go unharvested, left in the fields because they don’t meet stringent cosmetic standards for shape, size, and color. Other items might fail to make the cut for Grade A product standards later, and either get sold through secondary markets as “seconds” or simply tossed. And finally, there are parts of vegetables that get wasted because they are deemed undesirable or unsellable, when in fact they are fine to eat and could be incorporated into dishes with a little creativity. All of these possibilities can be financially damaging to the farmer.
“We’ve long tried to address waste in our kitchens and cafés, and the Imperfectly Delicious program takes us a step forward by moving down the supply chain to work with our farmers and distributors. Being a leader in more sustainable food service means stopping perfectly good food from going to waste wherever we find it happening.” – Fedele Bauccio
Wasted food is also an environmental disaster. When we waste food, we waste all the resources — the water, oil, chemicals, land, and labor — that went into growing and processing it. Food in landfills decomposes and emits methane, the greenhouse gas that’s 20 to 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.
That’s why in May 2014 Bon Appétit launched a groundbreaking pilot program to work with our farmers, distributors, and chefs to save this cosmetically challenged produce from going to waste. Food service operations use produce in many different ways, and visual perfection is necessary for only a small percentage of them. Size and appearance matter little; flavor matters the most. Through the Imperfectly Delicious Produce program, we’ve engage our distributors, farmers, and chefs to identify opportunities to rescue produce from going to waste on a regular basis. We work with:
- our farmers, small and large, to identify produce that can be rescued,
- our distributors, to set up the systems for purchasing and transporting the produce to our cafés,
- our chefs, to find creative ways to incorporate the produce into menus.
Through the Imperfectly Delicious Produce program, we are able to prevent waste in the supply chain and reduce the negative impact it has on our environment while putting money back in the pockets of farmers who need it most.
Learn more about how Bon Appétit is fighting food waste >
[i] Dana Gunders, Natural Resources Defense Council: Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill (PDF)