Every chef strives to serve the most fresh and appetizing ingredients available on the market. And yet, “ugly” produce—though equally nutritious and tasty—is getting tossed to the side: misshapen potatoes, collapsed peppers, and gnarled carrots are often assumed rotten or unusable due to their less-than-traditional appearance.
However, in an effort to combat the 40 percent of food that is wasted each year in the U.S., a new, emerging trend is forming—creatively incorporating these “ugly” ingredients into the menu. This is not only a way to up your restaurant’s sustainability, but also a fantastic tactic to both encourage marketing attention and to reduce the heavy cost associated with wasted food.
It’s shocking to realize that over a quarter of all produce is tossed in the trash before it even makes it to the grocery store. This is often due to its unpleasant shape or bizarre appearance, and assumes that customers will associate a misshapen exterior with a rotten interior. A farmer from Washington State, who recently interviewed on NPR, estimated that over a third of his crops, primarily made up of potatoes and root vegetables, are thrown away merely because they do not meet the appearance standards of buyers.
Our environment takes a big hit when produce is tossed in a landfill. Before its disposal, a great deal of fresh water is use in vain to support its growth. Then, as the produce decomposes in landfills, it releases methane gas, a dangerous chemical compound that heats in the sun and contributes to atmospheric warming. Methane is 21 times more likely to contribute to global warming than carbon dioxide.
For these reasons, it’s exciting to see that many farmers and restaurants are paving the way for utilizing these cosmetically flawed fruits and vegetables. Known for transforming any and all ingredients into palatable creations, chefs around the country are now tackling the unattractive variety of produce. Bón Appetite Management Company has tackled the issue with a company-wide initiative to cut down on unnecessary waste. Their Imperfectly Delicious program liaisons with their farms, suppliers, and cafes to bring ugly-but-fresh ingredients to their distributors and creative chefs.
Sweetgreen, a salad restaurant chain, helped set the tone in this movement by featuring the WastED salad on their menu in 2015, a beautiful collection of the portions of fruits and veggies that are often thrown away, such as stems and cores. Not only does this cut down Sweetgreen’s carbon footprint, but it also inspired customers and at-home chefs to reconsider the foods they often toss in the trash.
Incorporating these nontraditional items across your menu in either subtle or highlighted ways, is a great marketing tool for drawing attention to this innovative trend. These dishes also serve as an excellent conversation starter with customers regarding their cooking experience and relationship with food, as well as a tool to spread the word about your creative take on sustainability.
Companies across the world are beginning to realize the benefits, both financially and environmentally, of altering the consumer’s view of unconventional-looking produce. Chefs and restaurant suppliers can be the energy behind the movement against food waste, paving the way for a more sustainable industry, while supporting economic growth at the same time.
Dominick A. Farina is the owner of Trashcans Unlimited, a leading supplier of decorative and commercial trash cans and recycling bins.