‘Ugly’ Produce, Food Waste, and Events

Author: Michelle Russell       

real tomatoes are ugly

Real Tomatoes Are Ugly, a recent book by Manuel Bruscas, describes food waste as a “global issue” — but especially so in Western countries. (Illustration from the book by Alejandra Zuniga Cardenasa)

Barcelona, Spain–based Manuel Bruscas is vice president of product for Qustodio, a parental-control app. He’s also developed a passion for raising awareness about food waste, and over the past few years, has spoken at conferences and written articles on the problem. As an outgrowth of that — and to more fully explore the issue — he wrote a book, Los tomates de verdad son feos (Real Tomatoes Are Ugly), illustrated by an artist friend, Alejandra Zuniga Cardenasa.

food waste

Manuel Bruscas

Bruscas crowdfunded the project to cover the cost of printing 1,000 copies of Los tomates, which was recently published and is available only in Spanish. The title of the book, Bruscas told Convene, speaks directly to part of the reason for food waste: Less-than-perfect produce is often thrown away rather than consumed. “It’s a consequence of the dictatorship of beauty that we have in our society, right?” he said. “We do not tolerate things being not perfect, and I think we need to celebrate things being ugly or not perfect.”

Bruscas said that he had felt “limited” in talking about food waste when speaking at events or being interviewed. “You have two minutes, you have one question, you have 140 characters, and I like telling stories.” Los tomates is written and illustrated to appeal to both readers’ hearts and minds, he said, and to give them hope and practical instruction — to say, “Hey, you could do something about this,” he said, “and here’s what you can do.”

The issue of food waste at events, Bruscas said, is a matter of education. “We have enough food, it’s relatively low cost and therefore people have this sense, ‘I can afford it, I paid for that, so I can waste it,’” he said. “The first step is to educate, both the organizers but also the people at the events.”

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While he thinks the problem of food waste is global, he suspects it’s more of an issue in Western countries. In some cultures, he said, “It’s a lack of respect to leave food on your plate…. In Western countries, it’s like, ‘Yeah, that’s fine. We have enough food, no worries.’ I think that happens at home and that happens at events. So the first challenge to me is raise awareness, both in the people organizing events and people attending the events. Because when you attend an event,” he said, there is the perception that if there isn’t an overabundance of food, it’s because the organizers are being cheap. “And I think it’s a matter of explaining,” he said, “‘Hey, we care about you having the right food in this event, but we also care about food waste.’”

Tackling the problem requires a “holistic perspective,” he said. “One out of nine people in our planet Earth is starving, and at the same time, we’re wasting food. I think it’s important to link it,” Bruscas said. “Because I think you could consider food waste an ethical and environmental issue — both need to be considered.”

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