Over the last two years of The Ugly Fruit and Veg Campaign, I have received hundreds of messages from all around the world. Messages came from people inspired to get involved, college or high school students working on a paper in need of answers and, yes, folks looking to buy ugly produce (even though I don’t sell it). Messages also came from teachers that are talking about “ugly” produce with their young grade school students. Why? Because kids love ugly fruit, and they know that wasting good food, based mostly on the way it looks, is just plain wrong.
There are many other reasons that stopping the waste of perfectly good fruits and veggies—at least 20 percent due to cosmetic imperfections, farmers estimate—resonates with children. It could be that they see the awesome character these fruits and vegetables possess. They certainly have fun with them—“ugly” heart potatoes, curvy cucumbers, and many more (as parents tell me or show me all the time). It’s my hope that children are also getting the message that, just like people, it’s what’s on the inside that counts. Produce Body Positive, if you will.
Children’s interest in “ugly” produce is also something that seems to transcend countries and cultures the world over. I was interviewed for a class project by a parent from Dubai who was working at her daughter’s school; by my cousin who teaches in Alameda, California, and saw my images and campaign in a Time for Kids article; and a teacher from Ontario, Canada, who used images from my campaign to talk about the intersection food insecurity and food waste with her students.
However, one class, in particular, recently struck a chord with me. I was contacted by a teacher at the British Vietnamese International School (BVIS) in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Theteacher, Rachael Moss, mentioned that her students had read about my Ugly Fruit and Veg Campaign and the massive issue of wasted ugly produce. The students were appalled and wanted to do something it.
The young children at BVIS decided they would write letters to major supermarkets to get them to sell ugly produce instead of rejecting or wasting it. But first, they wanted to send their draft letters to me via email. It was so sincere and inspiring—letters from eight and nine-year-old students learning English—that I answered all 50 students! The letters are so great that I think they may inspire you, too.
While I was even starting to write this, another motivated eight-year-old from Southern California sent me a great video message (and “We Are Fruit, We All Are Cute!” song) that she and her friend put together. Then yet another student, a 12-year-old boy from Australia, asked me for some images for his “ugly” produce paper he planned to write to apply for a national science award.
While there has been a lot of supermarket progress in selling ugly produce over the last few years, there hasn’t been such innovation in our schools. Schools could see the biggest benefits of ugly produce: saving money (since “ugly” is available for less), while providing more produce and healthy plant-based meals for students. The Washington, D.C., School District knows this well as they have been working with D.C. Central Kitchen for years on healthy plant-based meals from “ugly” produce.
The positive health impacts of introducing “ugly” produce and incorporating more healthy produce into school meals could provide massive long-term benefits. It was recently found that eating less meat (and therefore more fruits and vegetables) could save the world up to US$31 trillion dollars (via health and environmental costs) and reduce global mortality by up to 10 percent, as well.
So why not introduce fun, character, and nutrition-filled “ugly” produce in schools (or at home!) and make it more fun for our children to eat healthy fruits and veggies? Whether in Australia, Canada, Dubai, America, Vietnam, or anywhere in between, students know that throwing away perfectly good, fresh, and tasty fruits and veggies just because of looks is flat out wrong. Let our kids try ugly produce and tell us what they think. Because kids really do love ugly fruit (and veg), and as BVIS 4V Teacher Rachael Moss said, “There is nothing more powerful than the honest voice of children.”
Please join my new campaign by visiting www.KidsLoveUglyFruit.org (with kids everywhere!), using the hashtag #KidsLoveUglyFruit on social media, and by sharing your stories, images, and produce to inspire the world.