How Ugly, Unloved Food Can Change the World – Dana Cowin


In this 2015 TEDxManhattan talk, Food & Wine Editor-in-Chief Dana Cowin explains how ugly fruits and vegetables – produce that doesn’t look perfect – can go a long way to helping end the massive problem with food waste.

Publications & Reports


TEDxManhattan Highlights 2015

11 Beautiful Ugly Foods

TEDxManhattan Heroes: Dana Cowin


  • American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of its Food (and What We Can Do About It), Jonathan Bloom, Da Capo Press, 2011.
    Featuring interviews with experts like Alice Waters and food psychologist Brian Wansink, Jonathan Bloom explores food waste in America and what we can do to reduce waste and save money.
  • The Third Plate, Dan Barber, Penguin Publishing Group, 2015.
    Dan Barber envisions a world where good farming and good food intersect and urges eaters to imagine a world where our food is as sustainable as it is delicious.
  • Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal, Tristram Stuart, Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc, 2009.
    A freegan, one who lives off of discarded or self­produced foods, Stuart explores the global food waste crisis and through investigation and data, shows what we can do to tackle the problem.

Reports & Studies


Discussion Questions

  • Do you think our culture has an obsession with beautiful food? Explain.
  • Have you ever eaten something you thought was ugly, misshapen, or imperfect? What was it and how did it taste?
  • How much food do you waste in your own kitchen? Do you tend to throw ‘imperfect’ food away or overlook it at the market? How could you change that?
  • What role do chefs play in changing our perception of “ugly” foods?
  • How can we educate people to choose taste over appearance?

Additional Information

  • Project Scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Dana Gunders has written several blog posts about food waste and areas where we can reduce waste.
  • Check out Dana’s pre­TEDxManhattan Ecocentric blog post where she discusses ugly foods and why they are so important for the future of food.
  • Part blog, part call to action, Jonathan Bloom’s Wasted Food seeks to report on the global problem of food waste.

Take Action

Things You Can Do

  1. Don’t judge a book by its cover; eat some deliciously ugly foods like monkfish or geoduck. Encourage others to as well by sharing on social media using #LoveUglyFood.
  2. Ask your local grocery store to follow the lead of Intermarche and other grocery retailers and sell ugly produce at a discounted rate, rather than disposing of it.
  3. In honor of Earth Day, Buzzfeed released 34 Ways to Waste Less Food. Try out one of their suggestions.
  4. Use West Coast Climate & Materials Management Forum’s Toolkit to Reduce Household Food Waste.
  5. Compost! See’s compost assistance section.
  6. Go to Change Food’s Tumblr site to share and give us feedback on your experiences.


  •’s @UglyFruitandVeg campaign calls on Walmart and Whole Foods to sell ugly food and end food waste in its stores.
  • Join Feedback Global’s movement and pledge to reduce food waste.
  • Participate in Food & Wine’s #loveuglyfood campaign which launched at TEDxManhattan 2015.


Beautiful on the Inside

In an effort to reduce food waste and prove that there is really no difference in taste, Jamie Oliver and Jimmy Doherty’s Beautiful on the Inside campaign partnered with UK supermarket chain Asda to sell ugly produce at a 30% discount.

City Harvest

Founded in 1982, City Harvest is the world’s first food rescue organization. In the last year, City Harvest has collected 55 million pounds of excess food from New York City grocers, restaurants, bakeries, manufacturers and farms and delivered it free of charge to 500 community food programs across the city.

Closed Loop

With 13 years of experience in recyclable packaging, waste auditing, resource management, organics recycling and more, Closed Loop specializes in providing comprehensive environmental solutions across industries including aviation, health and hospitality. Closed Loop has consulted with Rene Redzepi of Noma.

End Food Waste

Founded by zero waste professional and food waste activist Jordan Figueiredo, and the @UglyFruitandVeg campaign aim to highlight food waste practices and educate people on ways to conserve food. The flagship campaign event of Feedback Global, Feeding the 5000 shines a light on global food waste. At each event, they serve a communal feast prepared for 5000 people, made from food that otherwise would have gone to waste.

Fruta Feia

Fruta Feia Co­operative in Portugal aims to change consumption patterns and create a strong market for the ugly foods of the world.

Hungry Harvest

In an effort to end food waste, Hungry Harvest collects surplus from farmers and suppliers and delivers it to your door.

Imperfect Produce

Now serving Berkeley, Oakland and Emeryville, California, Imperfect Produce offers ugly produce straight from the farm that costs 30% less than produce from grocery stores.


Intermarche, the third largest supermarket chain in France, launched its Inglorious Fruits & Vegetables campaign, which sought to combat food waste by selling imperfect produce at a discounted (30%) price. The campaign reached 21 million people and resulted in a 24% increase in store traffic. Further, Intermarche’s five largest competitors also launched similar campaigns and the idea has even spread to Swiss retailer Coop.


World renowned Chef Rene Redzepi of Noma in Copenhagen brought ugly food right into his kitchen. Rene took a shriveled, incredibly hairy purple carrot that had been left underground too long and nurtured and nursed it into a gorgeous, tender and now world-famous dish called Vintage Carrot with Chamomile.


Chef Michael Cimarusti of Providence in Los Angeles is challenging traditional dishes by cooking with ugly seafood. He has transformed funny­looking creatures like geoduck, abalone, and sea urchin into a world­famous dish he calls The Ugly Bunch, which is far from ugly.


Author and Chef Dan Barber and Blue Hill has been an active presence in the food waste debate. Barber created an entire pop­up at Blue Hill in New York City called wastED, in which every dish was made with something that may have otherwise been discarded, like smoked whitefish heads that became a delicious tartar sauce. He also partnered with Shake Shack for one day only to offer his wastED cheeseburger.

  • Dana Cowin

    Editor in Chief Food & Wine

    Dana Cowin, Food & Wine’s editor in chief since 1995, is one of America’s foremost authorities on food, wine, style and design. Cowin oversees the Food & Wine brand, including a … Read More