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Ugly fruits and vegetables — coming to an emoji keyboard near you

Hungry Harvest hopes that by normalizing “ugly” produce, they can put a dent in food waste.

“Ugly” fruit and vegetable emojis. CREDIT: Hungry Harvest/Dylan Petrohilos/ThinkProgress
“Ugly” fruit and vegetable emojis. CREDIT: Hungry Harvest/Dylan Petrohilos/ThinkProgress

“Ugly” fruits and vegetables have been fighting for a place in grocery aisles for years — and now one food recovery organization is taking that fight digital by petitioning companies like Unicode, Apple, and Google to include new “ugly” produce emojis for their keyboards.

“We’ve got ‘perfect’ fruits and veggies in our keyboards, why don’t we yet have ones that have more personality, better express our feelings, and help bring awareness to some of the biggest issues of our time?” Ritesh Gupta, director of impact for Hungry Harvest, a Maryland-based company that recovers rejected or wasted produce from retailers and sells it to consumers at a discounted rate, told ThinkProgress.

Globally, about one-third of food is wasted each year. It contributes to hunger and food insecurity, and also contributes to climate change, as food left to rot in landfills decomposes to release methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Association, if food waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, behind only the United States and China. And food waste is a major economic burden, costing countries and food producers some $750 billion annually.

Recently, governments around the world have begun to address the challenges, with countries like France and Italy passing laws that essentially make food waste illegal. In the United States, the EPA and the USDA teamed up to set a goal of reducing food waste by 50 percent by 2030.

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Legislators have also taken notice of the problem, with Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) pushing for Congress to pass legislation that helps fight food waste — from standardizing misleading expiration labels to investing in more thorough studies of food waste at the farm level.

And while the majority of food waste in the U.S. occurs at the consumer level, a great deal of food waste takes place between the field and the grocery store. By some estimates, about 20 to 30 percent of produce is thrown away before it reaches the supermarket because it doesn’t conform to aesthetic standards — the perfectly round apple or the unblemished strawberry that American consumers have come to expect.

One of Hungry Harvest’s “ugly” produce emojis. CREDIT: Hungry Harvest
One of Hungry Harvest’s “ugly” produce emojis. CREDIT: Hungry Harvest

That’s why food waste activists like Jordan Figueiredo, the man behind the @UglyFruitAndVeg social media campaign, and food recovery companies like Hungry Harvest want to make American consumers comfortable with “imperfect,” but perfectly safe to eat, produce. By encouraging consumers to recognize that fruit and vegetables that don’t conform to traditional aesthetic standards can still be healthy, they hope to save some of the produce that is normally wasted between the farm and the grocery store aisle.

One way Hungry Harvest wants to do that is through emojis. To start, they’ve deigned their own collection of “imperfect” avocados, strawberries, carrots, and melons, which Apple users can download for free in the App Store. And they’ve started a petition to encourage Google, Unicode, and Apple to make their own “ugly” produce emojis, and to make those emojis universally available on keyboards.

“We hope this campaign helps to bring new audiences into the movement, including folks who aren’t as familiar with the food waste movement,” Gupta said. “We also hope Unicode, Apple, and Google take notice and help further the cause.”