Global Resilience Institute research assistant Erin Bourque, CSSH ‘19, and Honors student Sydney Mokel, CSSH ‘19, have won a 2018 Summer Scholars Independent Research Fellowship (SSIRF). The SSIRF, writes the Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships, is Northeastern’s “most robust award for students taking on research and creative projects requiring the greatest degree of independence and sophistication.”
The duo’s proposal, entitled Good, Bad, and Ugly: Facilitating Acceptance of Produce Abnormalities for a More Efficient Food System, aims to explore campaigns to normalize “ugly” produce as one component of a larger solution to reduce food waste.
“There’s a misconception that ugly produce isn’t healthy, tasty, or safe to eat, but when we’re talking about cosmetic imperfections, that’s just not true,” Bourque said. “Often this produce won’t even make it to store shelves because it’s a little crooked, a little small, or a little lumpy. If we could just get past its unusual appearance, we could make a big dent in the amount of food the U.S. wastes each year.”
In 2013, the United Nations illustrated the severity of the issue, explaining that one-third of all food produced goes to waste each year worldwide, costing approximately $750 billion in economic losses. Further, experts estimate that agricultural production will need to be bolstered by 60% by 2050 to support the growing world population. At home in the United States, up to 40% of the total supply is trashed annually, worth more than $161 billion.
Bourque and Mokel’s research will take them to sites in Denmark, the Netherlands, and France, countries that have distinguished themselves with their food waste reduction initiatives. Denmark saw countrywide waste reductions of nearly 25% thanks to leadership from activist Selina Juul. Albert Heijn and Intermarché, national grocery chains in the Netherlands and France respectively, have specifically created publicity campaigns for their “ugly” produce. Additionally, France introduced a law in 2016 banning intentional food waste by supermarkets.
With guidance from their mentor, Dr. Christopher Bosso, the pair will identify lessons from the work done in these countries that could be applied to burgeoning initiatives in the U.S. They hope that even a small step towards reducing waste, like embracing imperfect produce, could have serious significance for everyone involved: enabling the redistribution of fresh food to hungry community members, reducing costs for both retailers and customers, limiting the environmental consequences of large-scale waste, and supporting a more efficient and resilient food system overall.
Feeding a growing world population requires investments in rural areas — Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations
U.S. Food Waste Challenge — U.S. Department of Agriculture
Meet The Woman Who Led Denmark to Cut Food Waste By 25% in 5 Years — Global Citizen