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A Rallying Cry for Ugly Vegetables

In New York City and Washington, D.C., massive festivals are celebrating weird-looking produce—and fighting the problem of food waste.
Employees sort tomatoes at Hunts Point Market in the Bronx, New York.
Employees sort tomatoes at Hunts Point Market in the Bronx, New York.Jessica Leigh Hester/CityLab

BRONX, NEW YORK—At 9:00 a.m. on a chilly April morning, it already feels like the middle of the workday at the Hunts Point Market in the Bronx. The sprawling parking lot is an obstacle course of trucks backing into loading docks. The air smells like peppers. In one room, employees are sorting through a 2,500-pound bag of potatoes, culling out ones with blemished or broken skin. The spuds tumble down a conveyer belt and onto scales, then plunk into 5- or 10-pound bags for consumers to buy at grocery stores.

“This is the life-blood of New York’s food world,” says Dominika Jarosz, the global campaigns manager for the food waste organization Feedback. I’m accompanying her on a trip to canvass the market before the Feeding the 5000 event in Manhattan’s Union Square on May 10. She’ll glean cast-off produce from the market and other local organizations to cook an enormous public feast, as well as 5,000 meals for food banks and shelters, all with the aim of raising awareness about food waste. (A similar event is planned in Washington, D.C., on May 18.)