This morning, as I began my drive to work, I heard a public service announcement of sorts on the radio that was promoting a petition against food waste for various grocers in the Portland area to seek the reversal of the policy of throwing out ugly fruit so that it is not placed on the shelves to be stored. There is no hint in this that the fruit being tossed is being thrown out because of any health reasons or taste reasons, but merely because ugly fruit apparently detracts from the reputation of the company that is selling it. I find this to be very strange of an idea, worth exploring in more detail, although the announcement did not go into detail on the larger significance of the reasons why people would be reluctant to market fruit that was not particularly attractive. I suppose as someone who is not particularly physically attractive myself that I would find it somewhat easy to relate to the futility of wasting fruit in a supermarket merely because its surface appearance was not pleasing. Of course, when one thinks about the price of food, including fresh fruit, and the general availability of fresh fruit, this is a problem that deserves a solution, one that serves profitability and the interests of public health as well as a subtle lesson in reverse snobbery that is worthwhile to pursue.
Why would it matter if fruit is ugly in the first place? If we are going to a supermarket to buy fruit, we are generally not looking to paint a still life painting, in which case the aesthetic appeal of the fruit is paramount. It should be noted, though, that even in such a context it may be worthwhile, as an act of artistic irony, to paint a realistic still life photo of ugly fruit as a way of subtly rebuking our contemporary culture’s obsession with surface appearance, especially when that appearance is often doctored to make it unrealistic and perhaps even unattainable. In our contemporary society, all kinds of goods are sold via sex appeal, even goods which directly harm sex appeal, like fast food. Even if one wants to buy or lease a home or condo, the advertisements for such property often seek to promote a link between the purchase of expensive goods and services with increased attractiveness. It is only natural that we would expect the food we eat to aid our appeal to others, because we bought it at a particular location or because it provides certain benefits in health, even if that idea, when we reflect upon it consciously, is patently ridiculous. To be sure, we ought to look better if we eat a healthy diet that includes fresh fruits and vegetables, but there are many other factors that play into our appearance and our attractiveness (or lack thereof) to others, and the kind of bogus reasoning that is often used in marketing campaigns does not in any way help us to develop a sufficiently nuanced and robust understanding of what conditions in life would allow us to live the best we can given the constraints we are working with.
Given our interest in the superficial as a society and also given the fact that we tie the purchase and use of products and services, including food, to attractiveness, it ought to make sense that companies would correspondingly reject ugly fruit because it harms the interests of the sympathetic magic rituals that stores and brands often seek to promote. Since we associate pretty looking objects with our own attractiveness and beauty, and since this is a profitable connection for marketers, because it allows aesthetics to be an element in price discrimination and profitability, it would appear to counter the immediate interests of companies to market ugly looking fruit, even though it is just as nutritious and just as tasty as more beautiful fruit. To believe that it is better to waste edible and healthy fruit rather than besmirch one’s brand name and reputation by putting out ugly fruit suggests that something is dangerously wrong with our concern for optics in our contemporary business world.
What, then, is to be done about this? For one, let us note that there are ways that the contemporary bias for pretty-looking fruit can be used to the advantage of both companies and the general public at large. The re-branding of ugly fruit would allow for the fruit to be sold, increasing the revenue to the farmers and the fruit companies, but if it has its own less prestigious brand attached to it, it would not dilute the value of the existing brand and marketing structure. This amounts to a win-win strategy, in that those who are concerned about the aesthetics of the fruit they eat can pay extra for pretty looking fruit and those who for reasons of economy or who are disinterested in paying extra for the outside appearance of the fruit they eat can pay less money and get fruit that is equally good and good for them. This needs to get done, people. Let’s keep our superficiality from wasting good fruit that could be enjoyed by someone.