Everyday Activism

Fighting Food Waste Just Got Easier, Thanks to Imperfect Produce

The Bay Area–based delivery service launched in Portland in mid-August, offering “ugly” fruits and veggies for bargain prices.

By Tuck Woodstock August 22, 2017

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Imperfect Produce's fruits and veggies may be, er, cosmetically challenged, but they taste the same as more conventionally attractive produce. 

It’s no secret the United States wastes an absurd amount of food; according to a 2016 report by the Guardian, nearly half of all produce in America is thrown away due to “retailers’ demand for unattainable perfection,” resulting in 60 million tons (and $160 billion) of wasted fruits and vegetables every year. Food waste occurs at virtually every stage of the production process, from farm to retailer to consumer. We’ve written about ways that Portlanders are reducing food waste in the past, but now, there’s a new option: Imperfect Produce.

Founded in 2015, Imperfect Produce recovers nearly one million pounds of fruits and vegetables per month, mostly from large-scale California farms, and delivers it to consumers for as little as $11 per week. There’s a catch, of course: this produce has been rejected for not meeting grocery stores’ stringent aesthetic standards. But although the veggies might be bigger, smaller, or more crooked than your typical groceries, they won’t be wilted, bruised, or moldy; all “defects” are purely cosmetic.

Based in San Francisco, Imperfect Produce expanded to the Portland area in mid-August, and already reports record-setting enthusiasm from Oregonians. “The food waste fighters per capita in Portland is higher than any other market we’ve been in so far,” chuckles CEO Ben Simon. “The amount of people signing up in Portland is double or triple the amounts in San Francisco and Los Angeles.”

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Imperfect Produce offers boxes of conventional and organic fruits and vegetables that would otherwise be thrown away. 

As a college freshman, Simon co-founded the Food Recovery Network, which now gleans surplus food from 230 college campuses. These days, he works with Whole Foods locations in Northern California to create “ugly produce” programs, allowing them to sell crooked and scarred fruits and veggies under the Imperfect Produce brand. Imperfect Produce has also donated hundreds of thousands of pounds of food to various hunger-fighting organizations in California, and plans to work with Portland’s Urban Gleaners, Esther’s Pantry, Sunshine Awakenings, and the Oregon Food Bank.

Residents of Portland (plus suburbs like Troutdale, Vancouver, Hillsboro, and Oregon City) can join the legion of food waste fighters by signing up online. Customization options abound: the company offers both organic and conventional produce, and allows customers to choose boxes that include only fruit, only vegetables, or a handpicked mix of both. Prices range from roughly $12 for a 7–9 lb. conventional box to $43 for a 23–25 lb. organic box, plus a $5 flat delivery fee.

Go forth and fight food waste!

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