A different perspective on “inglorious” food

Saw the following video today and was very impressed. A supermarket chain in France is doing its part to reduce fruit and vegetable waste by buying those produce that do not meet the aesthetic standards for the market, creating a new marketing spin, and giving these “inglorious fruit and vegetables” a new lease of life. Sold at a 30% discount to their “normal looking” friends, they have proven to be a hit in France.

The UN estimates that one third of food produced in the world is lost or wasted, while on the other hand, more than 800 million people do not have enough to eat. Why is food that looks unusual but is otherwise just as tasty and nutritious, prejudiced and thrown away?

The main reason, I suspect, is that we are too affluent. If we were much poorer, we might be a lot more grateful for simply anything that Mother Earth offers.

A kinder and more sympathetic reason might be that we are ignorant and conditioned.

At the supermarket, often, all we see is nice looking produce. In the fruit section, all the apples in the same box are sold at the same price. Naturally, we pick the freshest and nicest looking ones. This is quite logical: for the same price why would anyone pick a bruised apple over a perfect-looking one? When we do not have any more information, appearance serves as a quick proxy for value, whether it is physical appearance or in price. (Actually, we apply this to human beings as well, which is sad…)

A friend asked whether I would actually buy the grotesque looking apple (below). My honest answer is, if I did not know anything more about the apple, probably no. However, if scientists and nutritionists verify that it is just as safe and nutritious, why not? And if it comes at a 30% discount, certainly! With better information, and a bit of price nudging, we can equip others to consider decisions they might otherwise not make.

inglorious apple

Another idea to consider is how we frame the issue. Psychological studies have shown that framing can influence the way we think and decide.

  • Because we are so used to good-looking produce, the current frame is that anything that looks strange (and scary) should be sold at a discount since they appear to be “deficient” in some way (in this case, looks). And so, the discount makes up for the deficiency.
  • But what if we consider a different frame? If the oddly shaped produce is just as nutritious and tasty as a good-looking one, aren’t we simply paying a 30% premium for beauty?

In both frames, different social norms seem to be implied. In the former frame, the social norm is on appearance and the discount is for the oddity (or deficiency). In the latter frame, the social norm is on the nutrition, and the premium is for beauty.

Would you choose different in both frames? :)

[Just to round out the “inglorious” gang, here are the other gang members.]

inglorious carrot inglorious eggplant inglorious potato inglorious lemon

Photo credits

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