Move Over Bob and Larry: Ugly Vegetables are Saving Lives

I like spring, mostly because it means that summer is coming. Since I’m a teacher, it’s obvious to most people why summer is my favourite season - can you say two entire months of vacation?! But a more commonly shared reason that I love the summer, particularly here in BC’s eastern Fraser Valley, is the availability of fresh, locally grown produce.

There’s nothing quite like pulling up to one of the ubiquitous “drive-thru mini-barns” to purchase a bag of succulent, sweet cobs of corn grown in nearby fields. Or stopping at a roadside stand to purchase a small container (ok…a large box or two!) of luscious, juicy blueberries freshly picked at one of many local berry farms.

My appreciation for newly picked fruits and vegetables goes way back. As a teenager, I spent several summers working at a fresh produce warehouse in central Alberta (yes, they really do have summer there…it’s just a lot shorter!). After weeks of sorting through and repackaging potatoes, onions, kiwis, oranges, and watermelons, I developed an eye for quickly categorizing produce into different grades of quality.

Ugly Vegetables Rejected     

Some of our customer stores would take pretty much any produce, as long as it was fresh. But most wanted fruit and veggies that were not only fresh, but cosmetically perfect, or as close to it as possible. Grade A produce for these customers not only had to taste delicious, it had to look like it tasted delicious!
"Ugly" parsnips at Gleaners.
I still look at produce with an eye trained for cosmetic quality, whether I’m buying bananas at the grocery store or picking out a carton of strawberries on the side of the road. Like many shoppers, I want the best quality fruit and vegetables for my money. I want the perfect apple. The perfect blueberries. The perfect cob of corn. I don’t have time or money for the imperfect.

Unfortunately, because of consumers like me, a lot of fruits and veggies that are perfectly edible end up getting thrown away, merely because they don’t look perfect. A nutrition-packed and flavor-full apple, orange, or red pepper that isn’t aesthetically appealing might very well end up overlooked, going bad, and getting thrown away.

When I stop to really consider that, one thought dominates: “What a pitiful waste!”

Rescuing Perfectly Good Food

But innovative organizations like the Fraser Valley Gleaners and FH Canada are making sure that imperfect vegetables don’t have to go to waste. In fact, they can end up serving a very special purpose.

Specifically because they’re not the “right” shape, size, or colour to make it into the aisles of your nearest gourmet market or grocery store, they can be repurposed for a very different destination. Unlike their cosmetically perfect siblings who make it to the tables and lunch boxes of your average Canadian, these pieces of produce get washed, diced, dehydrated, and mixed together by willing volunteers to form a nutritious soup mix that is destined to save the lives of thousands of people.

Precisely because these vegetables are imperfect “rejects”, they get the chance to feed desperate people in war-torn countries, in places ravaged by famine, or in villages where malnutrition is a longtime enemy, particularly of the young.

There’s a beautiful irony in that. And perhaps there’s encouragement and hope to be gained for those among us who feel imperfect, rejected, or not quite “right” according to society’s standards. For those who long to have their lives re-purposed with special significance.   Perhaps you have been created for a different purpose: a purpose which includes feeding the hungry, wherever they are found.


Children in Burundi receiving bags of nutritious Gleaners soup!

About Kevin Krikke: A teacher at an online school, Kevin currently lives with his wife and children in Chilliwack, British Columbia. He would love to get back to Guatemala for the chance to visit again with the incredible people he met there.



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Food for the Hungry: Move Over Bob and Larry: Ugly Vegetables are Saving Lives
Move Over Bob and Larry: Ugly Vegetables are Saving Lives
Food for the Hungry
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