ugly veggies

Remember that old movie trope, in which the mousy girl who never gets noticed takes off her eyeglasses and — voila! — suddenly, everyone can see she was beautiful all along?

Well, a similar sort of scenario is starting to play out in the world of produce in the U.S. (minus the sexist subtext).

Around the country, food service companies, grocers and entrepreneurs passionate about fighting food waste are rallying to buy up fruits and vegetables excluded from the produce aisle because of their defects. We’re not talking rot or bad taste here, just purely superficial stuff (the equivalent of those geeky glasses in our movie scenario): a carrot with multiple tips, a leek that grew in curvy, apples dented by hail.

Think Nobody Wants To Buy Ugly Fruits And Veggies? Think Again

Photo Credits: Far left and far right: Courtesy of Ron Clark/Better Harvests. Center three images: Courtesy of Bon Appétit Management Company

On a recent visit to the Tucson farmers’ market, I met a farmer selling only one thing: sunchokes. Seeing his modest stand surrounded by other vendors displaying cheeses, jellies, and stunning produce, I couldn’t help but wonder how these knobby roots could compete, but my worries were soon put to rest once I tried a few samples he had prepared. Steamed sunchoke tasted inoffensive, raw was great, and roasted was out of this world amazing. The versatility of the veggie is endearing; it wants to be as accommodating as possible. Craving salad? Grate some raw sunchoke in there. Making soup? Toss cubed sunchoke in the pot. Healthy snack? Baked sunchoke fries. The list goes on… If the versatility doesn’t sell you, consider the fact that sunchokes are related to sunflowers and can grow 10 feet tall. Pretty awesome.