SEATTLE –– Crooked-neck parsnips with wickedly long whiskers. Double-jointed carrots and knobby spuds. These fruits and veggies never make it to the catwalk of the supermarkets.
Misshapen with skin blemishes, the ugly ducklings end up in landfills or go to food banks.
There's an underworld full of ugly produce, waiting to be gobbled or turned into pie fillings. But who will have them?
Seattle, apparently, has its hand raised.
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San Francisco-based Imperfect Produce, which delivers boxes of rejected "ugly" fruits and vegetables to doorsteps in California and in Portland, Ore., tested the Seattle market in late October.
The goal was to sign up at least 300 Seattle households by the end of 2017.
The company met that goal weeks before even delivering one pockmarked lime to a Seattle ZIP code. According to administrators at its delivery-dispatch facility near Sea-Tac and at its headquarters in California, more than 2,000 Seattle customers signed up in less than four weeks.
"We had to start a waiting list right away," said Ben Simon, CEO of Imperfect Produce. "We were super happy with that response, surprised in the best possible way.
"As soon as we saw the demand was that high, a week before the launch ... we had to go on a hiring spree."
The delivery service trucks in more than 30,000 pounds of surplus produce to Seattle each week, much of it undersized, bruised or contorted like a Cirque-du-Soleil figurine, imperfect in appearance but perfectly edible.
In 2010, the last count, the nation wasted 131 billion pounds of food, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That raised concerns about wasted water, fossil fuels, fertilizer, labor and farmland.
In targeting Seattle, Imperfect Produce believed the food-waste problem would resonate in a city with composting and recycling laws.
While the company claims that its ugly produce is 30 to 50 percent cheaper than supermarket prices, that's not its main sales pitch. It preaches that buying rejected produce saves the environment, such as keeping wasted food from rotting in landfills, which creates greenhouse gas.
Imperfect Produce didn't revolutionize the "ugly-food" concept. It has taken an old-school component of farmers markets to the mainstream.
Across the country, environmentalists and farm advocates have long pushed for grocery chains and the mainstream to embrace ugly produce, much like they do in Europe.
Five years ago, the Natural Resources Defense Council concluded that Americans waste up to 40 percent of their food, often because the rejected food had the wrong size, shape, color or for other cosmetic reasons. Alarmed, the USDA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency set federal targets to cut food waste by 50 percent by 2030.
San Francisco has been the epicenter of the movement. The local supermarket chain Raley's and Whole Foods have sold wonky produce at a discount at their stores around Northern California.
In 2015, Imperfect Produce launched in the Bay Area to take advantage of the large bounty and a demographic tailored for the ugly-food movement. The surplus comes from about 100 different farms across the West Coast, as far away as Arizona, said Sara Custer, vice president of operations.
Imperfect Produce expanded to serve households in Los Angeles, Portland and, in late October, Seattle.
The company just started in Chicago, and on the West Coast plans to continue expanding to San Diego and Sacramento this year.