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Food & Hunger

‘Instagram Has Done to Food What Porn Has Done to Sex,’ Says American Celebrity Chef Alton Brown

You see it everywhere, in cafes, restaurants, bars, food markets: foodies snapping photos of their snacks and meals to post to Instagram.

But celebrity chef Alton Brown has spoken out about what that habit is doing in the world of food. 

The chef, TV personality, and award-winning author described the effect of Instagram on food as being like the effect of porn on sex. 

Take action: Tweet Starbucks Asking Them to Donate 100% of Unused Food to Charity in the UK

“Instagram has done to food what porn has done to sex,” he announced, at an event convened by The Atlantic this week exploring how we can make the global food system more sustainable. 

And, for Brown, it comes down to food waste. 

It’s about attraction, and a changing societal perspective of beauty standards — in the same way that that social media has contributed to the changing perception of ourselves, its also changing our perception of food.

Posting images of our food on Instagram, putting on filters to make it more attractive, has given us unattainable beauty standards for food — and that, says Brown, is contributing to food inequality. 

Read more: This Country Is Leading the World In Ending Food Waste

“We must eat the ugly food,” he continued. “We do not have a food shortage, we just have food we refuse to eat.”

Brown cited bananas as a leading example of food being wasted because it’s not attractive. 

In the UK alone, 1.4 million bananas are thrown out every day. In the US, bananas are the most-wasted item from grocery stores. And they contribute the most amount of food waste, in terms of weight and environmental impact, according to Mic

A key reason, according to a study from Karlstad University, is because of the perceived window of ripeness. Most of us only want to eat produce that looks how we think it should. A banana that’s dark black can still be eaten, but most shoppers will pass over any banana that has blemishes on its peel. 

Read more: Britain Just Got a £500K Boost to End Food Waste

The same goes for most fresh produce, anything from peppers, to apples, to potatoes. And stores know this, abiding by industry standards for size, shape, colour, and cosmetic attributes. 

Some retailers are getting on board with taking a look at how changing those industry standards for “food attractiveness” can help cut down on food waste — including companies like Imperfect Produce, Hungry Harvest, or Perfectly Imperfect.

Meanwhile, food activist Jordan Figueiredo, who launched the Ugly Fruit and Veg Campaign, is petitioning large grocers like Whole Foods, Walmart, and Target to stock imperfect produce, reported the Guardian.

According to Figueiredo’s site, between 20% and 40% of produce worldwide is wasted before it even reaches the store, because of perceptions of how fruit and veg should look. 

Read more: Co-Op Set to Sell Food Past Its 'Best Before' Date for Just 10p

“Ugly produce isn’t even really ugly, most of it is beautiful, just a little bit bigger or smaller than the ‘norm’ and sometimes misshapen, but very rarely hideous or ugly,” he says on the website. 

“What is ugly is the way that this different produce is being treated all around the world — wasted while so many are food insecure, cannot afford and/or do not eat enough healthy produce,” he says. 

Worldwide, the amount of food that goes uneaten is around 50% of what’s produced, according to Modern Farmer

Atlantic Harvest is bringing together a range of scientists, technologists, restaurateurs, and farmers who are developing new ways to make the global food system more sustainable and productive 

Two centuries ago, 90% of Americans were farmers, according to the Atlantic, but now it's just 2%. The shift away from the agricultural industry has been massive which is why industry experts are highlighting the need for us to examine the global food system now, to explore what changes we can make to ensure food production can make a return to the sustainable. 

Global Citizen campaigns to achieve the UN’s Global Goals, including for zero hunger. You can join us by taking action on this issue here.