Imperfect Foods is operating within an unjust and inequitable agricultural system at large. The company’s existence alone is reflective of the root issue of gross misallocation of resources, which we can no longer ignore in the face of climate change. Is this company simply commodifying food waste and perpetuating a system of overproduction? Are they doing better than the status quo, and is that even enough? At the end of the day, questions of the ethics of these ‘ugly produce’ companies and of our food system are the ones we should debate. With an average price range of $30-75, it would seem not all of us can even afford to ask ourselves if Imperfect is right for us. However, Imperfect offers a 33% reduced cost box if you qualify for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) but cannot accept EBT/SNAP. For those living in food apartheids (if you are unsure with this term, this is an amazing google opportunity!), organic, fresh produce can be literally life-saving, but with Imperfect being a nationwide service, community programs are being undermined. If your looking for something less problematic, I suggest checking out if you have a local Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) delivery service. While we need radical, not incremental, solutions, there is no one truth or black and white. Imperfect Foods seems to be a well-intentioned interim– 2/3 planets, keep fighting the system.
The contents of Imperfect Food’s weekly (or bi-weekly) subscription boxes come from a variety of outlets and can be totally customizable to your dietary needs. Their groceries include fresh produce, pantry staples, refrigerated dairy, and dairy alternative products, and ‘responsibly-sourced proteins that meet their “Imperfect Pledge” of good value, high quality, and sustainable sourcing (the specifics of their pledge are clearly outlined on their website under ‘FAQ’ if this kind of thang interests you). Their major claim to fame is their diversion of perfectly delicious, sometimes just ‘different looking’ food from becoming waste and financially harming food producers. I mean, who ever said being a little different looking was a bad thing; it’s on what’s on the inside that counts, right? On their website, they have even broken down each of the most common reasons their foods are considered “imperfect” and explained them in layman's terms so we can understand what's up with all this food waste!
Imperfect is also super transparent about all of the packaging choices on their website and blog, which is always a good sign, including why they prioritized food safety over using compostable packing. There is an easy 5-step direction outline on what to do with each of the contents of their packaging, some of which is plastic, which makes it super easy for those of us that can find all those recycling rules confusing. I have to note that they usually have a Packaging Return Program, which is suspended right now due to COVID-19. This program makes any recycling hassle *even easier* and gives your packaging a much more cyclical life. With all this, Imperfect Foods has acknowledged that there is still room for improvement with a long-term priority being to create no packaging waste.
While the majority of their produce is sourced from California, Imperfect is not claiming to be a service for local produce and does source from out-of-state and other countries when necessary or seasonally appropriate. Their goals rather align with waste reduction, which, as they say, 'has no borders.’ While it seems Imperfect has good intentions with their sourcing, the complications of the agricultural sector undoubtedly play a role that I had to factor into the rating. An example being the definition of ‘sustainably farmed’ seafood, because who determines what this truly means with marine environments being under immense anthropogenic pressure i.e. overfishing and environmental destruction? The following are their standards for the production of contents according to their website:
Produce: firm, fresh, and must not have condition issues (just an industrial term for mold, decay, etc.).
Pantry: no partially hydrogenated oils/artificial trans fats, prioritized sourcing of items that are short-coded, and surplus inventory to help fight food waste.
Dairy: rBST-free, no CAFOs, no artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives, select ‘artisan producer’ partners (kind of vague on this), pastured and/or smaller milk sheds prioritized, promotion of responsible land and animal management over organic (interesting).
Eggs: at minimum cage-free, organic, free-range, and/or pasture-raised options available in some markets.
Meat: antibiotic free, vegetarian fed.
Seafood: sustainably farmed, wild-caught.
Plastic packaging has a definite role cast in Imperfect’s current model, and if you didn’t know, plastic production is very fossil fuel-intensive! While this issue teeters with food safety on their overall rating, Imperfect’s acknowledgment of this flaw is at least a step in the right direction and deserves some sort of props.
They are partnered with 200 growers across the country, offering what they call a ‘fair price’ for imperfect/surplus produce. This is especially crucial for smaller farms that can struggle with food waste due to fruity cosmetic standards (if you get my pun, ha). Yet, we don’t truly know the detailed practices of these farmers or if there’s even consistency. Do they use pesticides? Are they minority- or women-owned? For those of you that’d like the deets on the breakdown of their sourcing, 78% of their produce is sourced from family farms or cooperatives, 13% is wholesale, 6% comes from grower representatives (A.KA. people who advocate for growers that don’t also have time to manage sales/marketing), and 3% comes from corporate farmers (i.e. Big Agriculture, yikes).
Partnerships include: Homegrown Organic Farm for their supply of small blueberries, Lakeside Organic Farms for cabbage, the Kaprielian family for citrus, Clover, Sierra Nevada, Petaluma Farms, and Chobani for dairy, Viva Tierra Organics for off-size fruit.
All the jobs at Imperfect, the company, pay a living wage. Employees also receive Imperfect Foods credit, 401K stock options, medical/dental/vision insurance, and parental leave as benefits.