By Carolin Schiemer.
Never seen a 3-legged carrot in real life? You might not be alone, because you can’t find crooked fruit and veggies in Danish supermarkets, where all produce has exactly the same size, shape and colour. Give this a thought or two more and you might ask yourself: what happens to all those cucumbers, potatoes and apples that are aren’t big, small, red, green, square, round or straight enough to “pass” the strict retail beauty test?
The Issue with Standardisation
Right now, what you get in supermarkets is according to UNECE standards categorized as “first class produce”, which has to be uniform in colour, shape and size. What is being withheld from you is the perfectly edible produce of the second class or even below, which might be visually defective but retains its “essential characteristics as regards the quality, the keeping quality and presentation” – yummy stuff just with marks of life experience, so to speak!
If not sold cheaply to the food processing industry, all too often “ugly” produce never reaches end consumers. Farmers, who are well aware of their demanding buyers, have different options when it comes to dealing with the unwanted produce. It can be left on the fields as natural fertiliser, used to feed animals or to produce biogas, and often it is simply thrown away in a landfill.
In Need for New Understandings of Quality
Food waste is a huge problem globally, as about 1/6 of all veggies and fruits grown are lost on farms, where in some cases every second piece is tossed due to cosmetic flaws. EVERY SECOND. In Denmark alone, that amounts to about 100.000 tons of food waste a year during primary production only. Food waste happens in every step of our food supply chain, so globally we use about 21% of the world’s fresh water and 28% of arable land to grow food we never eat.
At the same time we are worried that we don’t have enough food for a growing world population – a narrative I have found particularly prevalent in marketing food items as the “solution” to global health and climate challenges caused by unsustainable food systems, such as quinoa and edible insects. But what this narrative often fails to address is the difficult configuration of ‘how’ to achieve a positive impact in practice. How can we say we are worried about food security while throwing away or misusing food that has been grown with the purpose of feeding people? The narrative about doomsday being just around the corner is not telling the whole story. Something’s rotten here… and it’s not an apple!
It’s Time to Feed “Ugly” Produce back into our Food Systems
The whole story describes a reality where each actor in our food systems continues to market and accept flawlessness as an indicator for quality, with the consequence that produce earns its edibility through its looks and not through its nutritional qualities. And while there are several solutions in Denmark tackling food waste at the end of the food supply chain, such as WeFood, YourLocal or TooGooToGo, there are almost none at the beginning of it. Danish farmers are lacking time, resources and channels to connect with consumers while being constantly under price pressure from cheaper producers located down south and the short contractual agreements with buyers.
As a response to this craze, my partner and good friend Petra Kaukua and I founded GRIM, a new Copenhagen food waste business. Our mission is to fight food waste and traditional food industry beauty standards by delivering boxes of ugly, organic & seasonal fruits and veggies of all shapes, colours and sizes right to Your door, which we source directly from awesome farmers located in Denmark.
Petra and I met in the first week of our Master studies in Organizational Innovation & Entrepreneurship at CBS. We are both internationals in Copenhagen and share a love for food and music, so there was no party and no school project we didn’t do together. In that sense, GRIM was really a brainchild of our teamwork in a course in Social Entrepreneurship, where we investigated with a problem-centered approach how food waste is rooted within the Danish society.
Are you the next GRIM Ambassador?
Fast forward: Since February 2018, GRIM has been part of the one year start-up incubator InnoFounder run by Innovation Fund Denmark, where we receive funding, mentoring and a desk in one of Scandinavia’s best co-working spaces, Founders House (A little side note: the application round for the next InnoFounder batch just opened, so if you are a recent graduate or about to graduate soon, go apply now!) Last month, we completed our first test run. Soon, we are hoping to come back with a second round of ugly delivery, where we for the first time want to test out pick up locations. But we need YOUR help!
We are looking for GRIM ambassadors who help us make the world an uglier place. So if you are excited about what you’ve just read and you want to be with us in our mission to put a hold on food waste, you can get involved or help us find the next GRIM pick up point location – maybe at your school, your workplace or kollegium? Drop us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about what we are looking for and get yourself and your friends some great GRIM rewards.
We believe it’s time for an ugly food revolution – one where we are questioning the current concept of quality and edibility. The future of eating is ugly!
Carolin is the co-founder of the start-up GRIM and former student assistant at the CBS Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility (cbsCSR). She graduated from her Master in Organizational Innovation and Entrepreneurship at CBS in June 2017 and is the co-author of the book chapter “Marketing insects: Superfood or Solution-Food?” in: Edible insects in Sustainable Food Systems (out soon on Springer International Publishing).
Pic by Supermercat Studio.