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January 18, 2019

Keeping Grocery Prices Down, One Ugly Piece of Fruit at a Time

The other day at Trader Joes, I was checking out and the cashier looked over my red peppers. “Look at that,” she pointed out a mushy spot. “Let me go get you another one.” I told her it was fine. “No, really,” she insisted. “It’s no problem!” They are so nice at Trader Joe’s.

I appreciate the customer service and personal attention, even if I occasionally find it exhausting. I’m the customer who gives way longer answers to that question they’re probably required to ask.

“Sun-dried tomatoes! What do you plan to do with these.”

Well. Funny you should ask.

Sun-Dried Tomato Paste
The sun-dried tomatoes will go in a pot with enough wine to cover them, and heated to a low boil. Then I’ll turn off the heat, cover the pot,and let them soak for a while until they’re rehydrated. After draining, they go into the food processor with a little olive oil and voilà! Homemade tomato paste that’ll spoil you for the kind in a can or tube forever.

Poor Trader Joe’s cashiers, forced to endure my lengthy explanations. (But, hey, my suggestions can be helpful and they did ask!)

But back to that less than picture perfect red pepper. At 99 cents, the pepper is a steal, and I can either cut around that bruise or admit it’s going into a sauce anyway, so the bruise won’t matter. And if a new, perfect pepper replaces the ever-so-slightly damaged one? They toss the bruised one. Best case scenario, they donate it to a food bank or shelter, but it may get tossed there, too. The more produced that gets tossed, the more the store has to charge for what’s left. Eventually prices go up for everyone. And who needs to eat a perfectly formed bell pepper? Sold! To the overly talkative customer in aisle four.

As I mentioned, a lot of stores donate edible but less-than-glamorous food to people and organizations in need. And if the store has a hot bar or deli, they may be able to use perfectly ripe, yet slightly janky fruits and vegetables there. Some stores offer items like over-ripe bananas for a lower price, and they may even mark them “Great for banana bread or muffins!” (Which is correct. Fun tip: peel and freeze your brown bananas to use for banana bread whenever if you don’t feel like making it now.)

A lot of corporations are doing their part to reduce the food waste that results from tossing produce that won’t sell. Kroger and other grocery store chains are experimenting with labeling and selling their ugly produce and educating consumers in the process to encourage sales. In Europe, Intermarche gave funny looking fruits and vegetables top billing in a popular ad campaign a few years ago.

Now it’s time to do our part. When you go to Goodwill for a new look, do you pass over a dress because it’s missing a button? Put back a pair of jeans with a rip that could be patched (which will make them look cooler any way)? Would you walk away from a gorgeous sweater with a little pilling around the elbow? You probably wouldn’t. Show the same love for those fruits and vegetables that are a little worse for the wear. Your fellow shoppers thank you!

Use the Ugly Tomatoes and Eggplant: Slow Cooker Eggplant Parmesan
Want to use up some bruised tomatoes and a slightly wonky eggplant? Check out my recipe for slow cooker eggplant parmesan. It includes instructions for homemade marinara, which can be used in multiple other ways! And do go on ahead and throw a wounded pepper into that sauce. You won’t regret it!


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