The Hippo


Jul 4, 2020








Vegetable pancakes and dilled zucchini and chard made with ugly produce in a previous Uglies demonstration. Courtesy photo.

The Uglies 

Where: Manchester Community Market, Victory Park, 105 Concord St., Manchester 
When: Thursdays, Sept. 8 and Oct. 20, from 3 to 6 p.m.

Bring on The Uglies
Farmers market program makes use of ugly produce

By Angie Sykeny

 Looks aren’t everything — that’s the message behind The Uglies, a new program started by New Hampshire Food Bank to clear up misconceptions about blemished produce and ultimately cut back on food waste.

Once a month at the Manchester Community Market, chefs from the food bank’s Recipe for Success culinary training program conduct an interactive cooking demonstration, transforming ugly produce into restaurant-worthy dishes.
“There’s this stigma about a carrot that’s all twisted up or a tomato with a growth off the side, and it has something to do with the retail market and what we’re used to seeing,” said Paul Morrison, New Hampshire Food Bank production chef. “We want what we think is the best possible thing for our money, and the grocery stores only keep their shelves full of product they know they will sell.”
Because much of the local produce offered at the farmers market is grown naturally and without chemicals, it’s common for it to be misshapen, disproportionate, scabbed or scarred, and Morrison wants people to know that aesthetically challenged fruits and vegetables aren’t any less healthy or less tasty than the ones that look good.
On a market day featuring The Uglies, participating vendors bring their ugly produce, and Morrison and his fellow chefs bring a mobile kitchen with stainless steel tables, burners, pots and pans, cutting boards and knives and a basic pantry — everything they need to create an improvised meal.
“We don’t get the produce until we show up; it’s totally on the fly, which is a lot of fun for us,” Morrison said. “We just make whatever strikes our fancy and whatever we can with the produce they bring us.”
So far, they’ve made dishes like creamed corn, a spicy tomato salad, carrot curry, potato salad and quick pickled cucumbers. People can try samples of the dishes, get cooking tips and even participate in the cooking process if they like.
“We’ve even done things as simple as pan-fried potatoes where we showed folks what the potatoes used to look like, then slice them and fry them up so they can see that a bruised and battered potato tastes as good as the beautiful ones do,” Morrison said.
Ironically, he said, there are some studies that suggest that produce that has been stressed by insects and atmospheric conditions generates a higher concentration of nutrients as a defense mechanism, making it even more wholesome than unstressed produce.
Part of the program’s mission is to help farmers by giving them an outlet to use their ugly produce and changing the public’s idea of ugly produce so farmers will be able to sell more of it in the future.    
“There’s so much [ugly produce] that doesn’t make it to the market or retail stores because the farmers have already decided it’s not what they’re going to bring,” Morrison said. “They end up feeding it to their animals or tilling it back into the soil … but it costs a lot of money and time to grow produce. Even if they sold the ugly ones for half price, they could get back what they spent and be in better shape.”
The New Hampshire Food Bank will offer The Uglies at the Manchester Community Market two more times this year, Sept. 8 and Oct. 20, and it may participate in some winter farmers markets. Morrison is also planning a multi-course ugly vegetable dinner prepared by local chefs for next fall to raise more awareness about food waste and funds for the food bank.
The most impactful thing people can do now, he said, is to create a demand for ugly produce.
“We can start a push here one by one if we just remind people that ugly fruits and vegetables are out there and encourage them to get out and let their grocery store produce managers know that they want to see some ugly produce at their store,” Morrison said. 

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