The beauty of imperfection

How the artisanal food trend is giving ugly food a makeover.

At one point or another, everyone has seen a food ad with an image of highly styled, unbelievably perfect food. A perfectly symmetrical hamburger with no unsightly juices or messy condiment drips, or an ideal apple with no bumps or bruises. We know that food rarely looks this perfect, but this is advertising and we want to show the product in the best light possible. Right?

Not necessarily.

artisanalWith the rising popularity of artisanal food, food marketers are leaving perfection behind to tell a more compelling story of authentic food. The theory goes like this: symmetrical perfection is the result of mechanization and mass production. Slightly odd and off-kilter foods are the result of individualization and handcrafting.

As consumers look to create a more personal connection with what they eat, they look for foods that have individuality and personality. Locally grown. Clean label. Small batches. This consumer segment wants products made by people who look at food production as a craft – what is now referred to as artisanal food. These consumers want authenticity, not symmetry.

This is not to say they want food that’s any less appetizing, they just don’t want food that looks plastic. So when marketing artisanal food a little artistic imperfection goes a long way.

Coincidentally, the artisanal food trend has also given a resurgent boost to the Ugly Food movement. Now that being less-than-perfect is considered an advantage, all sorts of lumpy, bumpy and oddly shaped vegetables are suddenly in vogue. This is good news.

By some estimates, 20 to 40% of produce is discarded for purely cosmetic reasons. This occurs all along the food chain. From pickers who are trained to cull their harvests, removing fruits and vegetables that are not up to standard, all the way to consumers who simply choose to leave behind misshapen produce. This discarding of aesthetically imperfect food contributes to a significant portion of overall food waste. So, a simple shift towards a broader acceptance of oddly shaped food will actually put more food in the system.

And that makes ugly food a truly beautiful thing.

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