Campaign Launched to Change Mindsets about “Ugly Food” to Save the Environment

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A recent survey showed that consumers’ misperceptions about “ugly food” contributes much to food wastage. More than two-thirds of respondents showed that they would not buy food that had a less than perfect appearance.

As part of a campaign called Food Unfiltered carried out by students from Nanyang Technological University’s (NTU) Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, the graduating students conducted a survey of 243 Singaporeans with ages from 20 to 59 in a year deemed by the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources as the ‘Year of Climate Action’.

Results from the survey showed that 68.1 percent of respondents refused to buy ugly food—items that are defined as “edible fresh fruits and vegetables with slight discoloration, bruising or misshapenness.” Misconceptions about these foods also emerged as the reason why these foods were rejected, since almost 80 percent of respondents think that ugly food is not as fresh as food that looks perfect. More than half of the respondents believe that eating it could cause health problems. Furthermore, almost 36 percent think that it is less nutritious, and almost 35 percent feel that it is not as delicious as perfect-looking food.

None of this is true. According to nutritionist Fahimah Mohd Jaffar, “Contrary to what many think, food with imperfect appearances are equally nutritious and are safe to consume. Many of these flaws are only on the surface, and can be easily removed without losing too much of the food itself. Learning to embrace ugly food is a simple way for us to reduce food waste in Singapore.”

Hence the Food Unfiltered campaign’s goal is to lessen food waste on a national level through encouraging people to consume ugly food as well as heightening consciousness about levels of food wastage. This is aligned with the national agenda of supporting practices that are sustainable in order to combat climate change.

Food waste has increased by more than 40 percent in the last ten years. Two years ago, in 2016, almost 800,000 tons of food waste was collected—an amount that is equal to more than fifty thousand double decker busses. Among the total amount of waste generated, one fifth is composed of food waste. However, from this portion, less than fifteen percent of the food waste was actually recycled.

All around the world, experts have identified “cosmetic filtering,”  the practice of throwing away less than perfect food, has been identified as a significant contributor to food waste. 46 percent, or nearly half of all the food produced globally are rejected due to irregularities in appearance. This practice has also contributed to wasted resources in food farming.

The Sheng Siong Group will be featuring posters to heighten consciousness about food waste and misconceptions about ugly food in their supermarkets starting this month, in partnership with the Food Unfiltered campaign. Lin Ruiwen, the Executive Directr of the Sheng Siong Group, says, “Food Unfiltered is bringing across a very relevant message to our customers. It is natural that not all fresh produce are perfect looking, but small blemishes can definitely be tolerated. By having a better understanding of the characteristics of fresh produce in its storage and handling, and being more accepting of cosmetic imperfections, everyone can do their part in minimizing food waste.”

Other groups that are partnering with the campaign are Bank Singapore, Southwest CDC, Taman Jurong Community Club and NTU’s Student Community Engagement Office in different events and initiatives. The campaign has also received support from the National Youth Council’s Young ChangeMakers grant, Sheng Siong Group, and the National Environment Agency.