How ugly food can end hunger

From waste to plate: Feeding New York's hungry
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From waste to plate: Feeding New York's hungry 01:11

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(CNN)"Ugly Food" is being wasted every day in the United States. The USDA says 133 billion pounds of food was thrown away in 2014. Much of this food is not eaten based on its appearance, despite being safe and edible. With millions of Americans going hungry, looking at ways to save our wasted food could have a tremendous impact on feeding them.

Dana Cowin, editor-in-chief, Food & Wine magazine
Dana Cowin, editor-in-chief of Food & Wine Magazine, launched the "ugly food" movement, which encourages Food & Wine readers and social media users to embrace the unappealing looks of fruits and vegetables.
CNN Impact Your World had a chance to interview Cowin about "ugly food" before the launch of the "Plenty Project," which focuses on having a no-waste Thanksgiving.
    Q: How can altering how we think about "imperfect food" change the world?
    Cowin: If we could stop wasting food, imagine how many more people we could feed! If shoppers looked at crooked carrots, misshapen potatoes, slightly dinged apples or too-small peaches and thought, wow, that looks delicious, imagine the benefits for struggling farmers. If home cooks shopped in their own vegetable bin before going to the market, they would save money and help the environment, too, and all because they decided to rescue a vegetable before it turned bad. If we accept imperfect food, we can indeed change the world for the better.
    Q: How can imperfect food play a role in feeding the food insecure or the hungry?
    Cowin: Nearly 40% of all food in this country is wasted, and there are over 49 million food-insecure people in the United States. Clearly we have an enormous opportunity if we can find a way to retrieve the imperfect food and to feed the hungry. I'm on the board of City Harvest in New York City, which is a great example of an organization that can serve as a bridge for rescuing food and bringing it to those in need. For over 30 years, they've been rescuing surplus food from restaurants, markets, bakeries and redistributing it to soup kitchens, and they also work with farmers to collect imperfect food that they can't sell, as well as surplus produce that otherwise would've been plowed under. Trader Joe's founder Doug Rauch recently opened a not-for-profit grocery store in Dorchester, Massachusetts, that sells slightly imperfect goods for a fraction of the cost, with the goal of improving the poor community's access to healthy food. If more people start selling ugly produce we have a chance to crack the hunger and malnutrition problems in the U.S. (Almost 90% of us do not get enough fruits and veggies). There are many other inspiring examples of individuals and organizations trying to connect excess food to those who need it.
    Q: What is the ugly food movement?
    Cowin: The ugly food movement embraces the potential of funny-looking or smaller-sized fruits, vegetables and other wild-looking edibles. If, as consumers, we can change our mindset so that we see gnarled, twisted, lumpy or otherwise imperfect produce as beautiful, we can create demand, change the system and ultimately help feed the world. It's the difference between choosing a lumpy, two-headed tomato at the market instead of a round, shiny tomato -- very little effort for a lot of gain. There's imperfect food out there that just needs a mouth to bite into it.
    Q: What should people share with the #LoveUglyFood hashtag and why?
    Cowin: People should go to their local grocery store or farmers' market and buy ugly, misshapen foods, then cook with them and document their dishes. And share not only the funny-looking foods, but the fantastic results. In fact, we're running two chefs' "before" and "after" dishes in the November issue of Food & Wine (chef Michael Scelfo at Alden & Harlow, for example, took gnarly parsnips and spiralized them for latkes). With that kind of inspiration, people will understand that appearances truly don't matter. Or, to quote chef Jamie Oliver's campaign for Asda, the UK supermarket chain, we want to help people appreciate food that is "beautiful on the Inside."
    Q: What can people do to rescue imperfect food and cut down on food waste?
    Cowin: There are some very simple steps:
    1. Start at home. Check out the produce bin in your fridge or your cabinet before you buy more. When you see something on the verge of going bad, freeze it, turn it into a sauce, make jam.
    2. Create demand. Let your local grocery store know that you will buy imperfect food, particularly if it's marked down in price. At the farmers' market, buy less-than-perfect fruit. At the fish market, ask for side cuts that might make an excellent stew.
    3. Spread the word. Use the #LoveUglyFood hashtag to share your discoveries. Talk to your elected leaders about changing government regulations that prevent perfectly edible food from being sold. Start conversations in your community so we can begin to see more "ugly" food on our store shelves and plates, and not in the trash.
    For more ways you can make an impact on hunger, go to CNN.com/impact.