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Do carrots have to be pretty?

Do carrots have to be pretty?

Words: Johanna Kinnock and Maria Jencel

Illustrations: Flemming Dupont

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Are vegetables living under the same beauty standards as people – and are the pretty veggies actually the most tasty ones?

Did you know that in some countries up to 40% of all vegetables are thrown out because they’re too ugly? Not because they’re not tasty enough, fresh enough or organic enough. Simply because they’re not beautiful enough.

In the latest episode of the 5 Podcast, we set out to learn why we can’t buy ugly veggies in the supermarket. And it turns out the ideal of physical perfection isn’t just about body weight and looks. Vegetables need to be perfect too.

“Beauty standards have always been in our society. Why shouldn’t this also concern vegetables?”

Sarah Phillips

Every vegetable in the supermarket has been measured and weighed. Its appearance has to live up to certain standards to make it to the shelves. According to food expert Sarah Phillips, who started the Ugly Produce is Beautiful educational campaign in the United States, vegetables and people are more alike in this respect than we probably think.

“Beauty standards have always been in our society,” says Sarah. “Everyone and everything needs to be perfect. It happens everywhere in our society. So why shouldn’t this also concern vegetables?”

Sarah says it is a huge misunderstanding that beautiful vegetables are better than the ugly ones. If anything, it’s the perfect ones that are weird. “Odd looking fruits and vegetables are just as good and tasty – if not more. Nature doesn’t make them look the same”.

The Dutch food waste campaigning organisation Kromkommer (a play on the Dutch words for ‘wonky’ and ‘cucumber’) has published books and teaching materials featuring misshapen vegetables, to help educate children that this is normal and healthy.

The standardisation of vegetable sizes and shapes started as kind of a quality control. But the more perfect and identical the produce on store shelves looked, the more consumers expected it to be that way. Now stores only sell pretty vegetables, because they think that’s what the consumers want to buy.

“Odd looking fruits and vegetables are just as good and tasty”

Sarah Phillips

So if we want to change this then we – the people who consume this produce – need to find the companies that sell the ugly vegetables, and buy them.

“That’s how change comes about in the world,” says Sarah. “Not just screaming about it – but putting our dollars where our mouth is. That’s when companies start saying, hey, we better start selling these kinds of products, because there is a demand for it. That’s the only way that change comes about”.

To hear the full story, listen to the latest 5 Podcast. It’s out now, wherever you get your podcasts, and at the link below.


  • Ugly Produce is Beautiful – Sarah Phillips’ mission to transform the way we look at food
  • Kromkommer – Teaching kids that not all veg looks the same
  • Espigoladors – Gleaning ugly fruit and veg from the fields of Catalonia
  • Eat Grim – Selling funny-shaped produce to Danish consumers since 2018