Originally posted on the Vacaville Reporter: Since I work for the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, I know I pay more attention to stories about “ugly food” than most people, but there has been a good deal of media attention recently about food that never makes it to our grocery stores.
The former CEO of Trader Joe’s has established stores in low-income neighborhoods in Boston where “ugly food” is sold. Raley’s has started a program selling “Real Good Produce” that is not as pretty as the rest, but costs less. These efforts are trying to get food that would not normally come to a grocery store available to shoppers.
There is a tremendous amount of food wasted in the United States every year.
Estimates vary, but depending on the type of food, up to 30 percent of some crops never reach grocery stores. Consumers have come to expect flawless looking fruits and vegetables.
Although using “not perfect” produce is making headlines now, it is not a new concept. Food banks in California, and throughout the nation, have spent the last several years working with the agricultural industry, so we can collectively provide nutrition to the people in need and minimize waste.
Years ago, the California Association of Food Banks approached orange growers to see if there was a way we could obtain the oranges they did not sell. Oranges sometimes grow too big or develop a color that is not quite perfect. Below market-grade oranges were being sold to make orange juice, so food banks agreed to meet that cost.
We also agreed to take entire trailer loads and fit our needs into the shipping logistics the fruit packers have in place. In addition, we had to demonstrate to the orange growers that we would not interfere with their markets, but would only distribute to those who could not buy oranges.
We succeeded on all counts and our state association is now working with the agricultural industry to save more than 120 million pounds of food each year from waste.
The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano distributed over ten million pounds of produce last year, providing the people we serve with apples, oranges, pears, onions, potatoes, cabbage, celery, etc.
We have built distribution programs that depend on the availability of fresh produce. We provide delicious and nutritious fruits and vegetables to low-income children through our Farm 2 Kids program and to senior citizens through our Senior Food Program. Through our Community Produce Program, we distribute fresh produce every other week at more than fifty sites in Solano and Contra Costa counties. To learn more about these programs, please visit our redesigned website at www.foodbankccs.org.
Given the massive amount of produce grown in the United States, we know that there will always be some waste in a system this complicated. Through community support and with the generosity of the agricultural industry, the Food Bank is able to provide “imperfect” produce to thousands of our neighbors in need and reduce the overall percentage of waste. This collective effort is having a positive impact on the health of the people we serve. We are making a difference.