The Ugly Truth of Ugly Produce

A Mysterious Newcomer

Back in 2015 we at Phat Beets Produce received a curious email from a startup produce company serving the East Bay who wanted to partner with us to “support the work you do.” As a non-profit dedicated to food justice, we work with small farmers of color and young entrepreneurs through a variety of youth programs and through our small-scale BeetBox CSA–a community service agriculture enterprise that links local farmers to consumers in low-income neighborhoods. We were intrigued. The company turned out to be Imperfect Produce, a business that buys up ugly produce from large agribusiness across the globe for resale at a discount through a subscription box program. Three years later and with a 30% drop in customers at our BeetBox CSA, we realized that we were being out-competed by a startup with a glitzy marketing campaign and venture-capital funding. This corporate-supported agriculture was avidly commodifying agribusiness’ food waste and had little to do with supporting the community.


A carrot in bed with an eggplant


Our BeetBox CSA supports small farmers of color mostly farming under 50 acres, including a one acre youth farm at an Oakland High School. Before Imperfect Produce arrived, the BeetBox profits allowed us to supply produce to under-resourced neighborhoods, support free community meals programs and supply free fruit to a variety of youth programs. We provided food for the Self-Help Free Produce Stand, and a Rx Prescription Veggie Voucher Program at Children’s Hospital in Oakland, as well as free home delivery for EBT/SNAP/food stamp customers.

Within months of its arrival in the Bay Area, Imperfect Produce fliers were showing up on our car windows, their outreach coordinators were pitching at community meetings, their Facebook advertisements popped up daily in our feeds, and they were edging into community centers we had operated at for years. Their marketing blitz paid off. Soon, their single use cardboard boxes began lining the streets on recycling and garbage days in the East Bay. We lost customers, a lot of customers.

They were edging into community centers we had operated at for years

BeetBox subscriptions have fallen so much we’ve had to cut back on many of the food justice programs that our CSA proceeds had previously supported. Our moral economy was being gobbled up by a hungry startup parading as a social enterprise.

The Commodification of Need

Imperfect Produce claims they’re saving the world by reducing food waste–and helping farmers by buying surplus ugly produce that would have been thrown out. Sounds great. The reality is that this produce would have otherwise gone to food banks, to be redistributed for free. As social safety nets continue to get slashed and incomes stagnate, more and more people are turning to these food banks to access this imperfect produce. Imperfect Produce (the startup) is taking a cut into this same surplus, rebranding it, boxing it up in single use cardboard boxers and making a profit off of the desires of conscious consumers who want to reduce food waste.

The reality is that this produce would have otherwise gone to food banks, to be redistributed for free

On their Frequently Asked Questions section of their website, Imperfect Produce claims that the California Food Banks only take 150,000 lbs per year of produce from California Farmers as a donation, implying that the rest in going to waste. The California Association of Food Banks say they receive and redistribute 164 million lbs of fruits and veggies each year. Something smells about this strategy, and it’s not the compost.

Ugly produce or imperfect produce

Further Gentrification of the Food System?

Imperfect Produce reflects a very troubling trend that is undermining local, small-scale farmers and food justice initiatives, a trend that commodifies and gentrifies food waste. The company has helped to create a market for the waste created by industrial agribusiness, selling it it to conscious (rather than needy) buyers by branding it as a form of environmental activism. This produce used to be readily available to food banks but now that ugly and imperfect produce can turn a profit, they are less available to those in need. Those with limited access to fresh produce are at risk of no longer accessing free, fresh produce through the food bank and their affiliate distribution channels. Small, local and urban farmers are losing their CSAs–their lifeline to economic viability.

Supporting Farms or Agribusiness?

Ben Simon, the co-founder of Imperfect Produce, spoke about scale to the U.S.News & World Report, “[The] farmers we work with have to have enough volume for it to really make sense. We want to be able to source at least a truckload from these growers each week, so they have to be at least midsize in most cases.” Imperfect Produce is only able to make a profit by working with the larger global agribusinesses, not the picturesque small and mid-sized farms they project in their marketing campaign. They donate the ‘leftovers of their leftovers’ to non-profits and the very place that surplus produce would’ve gone to in the first place, food banks. The only thing the company has done is to fulfill their bottom line by creating another market for agribusiness’ systemic overproduction. It’s a clever money making scheme, but it certainly doesn’t help small, local farmers or address the source of waste: overproduction by industrial farms as they produce the perfect produce sold in supermarkets.

Imperfect Produce is only able to make a profit by working with the larger global agribusinesses, not the picturesque small and mid-sized farms they project in their marketing campaign

A Phat Beets youth-supported garden in Oakland

A Case of Sour Grapes?

Some may claim we have a case of sour grapes. This is capitalism at its best. While Imperfect Produce has always been a friendly bunch willing to donate their surplus, they sell a market solution disguised as activism, undermining alternative economies and social justice initiatives like those implemented by Phat Beets. They do this by commodifying food which would go to the poor for free while branding themselves as an ethical solution to food waste. Unlike CSAs, they aren’t rooted in a community economy, but the free market, investors, and higher income consumers. Small-farmers and poor communities lose out in the process.

While Imperfect Produce has always been a friendly bunch willing to donate their surplus, they sell a market solution disguised as activism, undermining alternative economies and social justice initiatives like those implemented by Phat Beets

There is no simple answer to how we deal with food waste, but commodifying it is not the solution. The US food justice movement was built on the shoulders of the the Black Panther’s Free Breakfast/Meals program and the work of the United Farm Workers that is over 50 years old, and comes straight out of North Oakland and the Central Valley of California. Following in their footsteps, our partners at organizations such Self Help Hunger Program, Food Not Bombs, Mother Wright, Qilombo, The Village, Poor News and many others are rooted in these tried and true means of healthy food distribution for the people by the people.

Help us build out our infrastructure. See our donation list here

Re-invest in community! There are plenty of amazing local producers and distributors such as Mandela Foods, Urban Tilth, Freedom Farmers Market, Farm Fresh Choice, among many others to support and invest in through a simple internet search. In addition, Phat Beets Produce is launching an online store to host farm-based, youth-made products from across the Bay as add-ons to the BeetBox CSA. We are re-investing in local programs, reinvesting in our community, expanding our 1 acre youth farm with our community partners, strengthening our community partnerships and distribution network and asking for our communities’ support and investment. Join us investing in Restorative Economics, Youth jobs and Local foods at

About this article

This article was written by the crew at Phat Beets Produce with collaboration and input from Food First.

Phat Beets Produce is part of Oakland Communities United for Equity and Justice, a 501c(3) non-profit. Phat Beets aims to create a healthier, more equitable food system in Oakland and beyond by providing affordable access to fresh produce, facilitating youth leadership in health and nutrition education, and connecting small farmers to urban communities via the creation a CSA, community farm stands, markets, and youth entrepreneurship. Learn more at

Food First is a “people’s think tank” dedicated to ending the injustices that cause hunger and helping communities to take back control of their food systems. Our work both informs and amplifies the voices of social movements fighting for food justice and food sovereignty. Learn more at


  1. Jen H on August 17, 2018 at 2:19 pm

    Thank you for this powerful article. It’s a strong reminder that “doing the right thing” requires thought and investigation. I’ve canceled my Imperfect account. I’ll now look more closely/pay better attention to work and innovation that directly benefits my community and those in need before capitalists, however conscious they may be.

    • Vic on September 14, 2018 at 1:06 am

      I just learned about this from Robert Egger on Twitter and finally found the source of it is this article from Phat Beets

      Seems like whoever wrote this article made some assumptions about Imperfect that weren’t true. How could they be taking this food from the hungry? Seems like it’s coming from the farms where it was getting wasted, no?

      • Max Cadji on September 24, 2018 at 4:27 am

        That’s interesting, thank you for sharing. Robert Egger had this to say about the commodification of food waste in April 2018….

        “Farmers used to be like, ‘Hey man, I can’t sell this, so I’m going to give this to the food bank.’ That’s happening less and less,” he says. “The market forces are driving food waste towards reinvestment and profitability versus down towards charity. What will happen in three years, six years, or nine years demands a vigorous re-examination of our food system.”- Robert Egger, LA Kitchen*

        “Everybody’s so excited about the environmental aspect, but sadly what the unintended consequences in the future is that when food banks and pantries are pressed harder due to an aging population, that food that used to be donated will be at a premium,” Egger says. “After all, all donated food is lost profits.”- Robert Egger, LA Kitchen*

        Commodification of food waste is very dangerous. We would like to share the true intentions of Imperfect Produce in their own words. Their own CEO wants to be in control of the entire “food waste” stream, what impact will this have to consolidate? Please understand. We stand by our article and unfortunately we will see this play out over the next 5 years in a very troubling fashion.

        “There’s really about six billion pounds of fruits and veggies going to waste every year because of their cosmetic challenges, so our vision is to get as much as possible of that six billion pounds to market.” – Ben Simon, Co-Founder of Imperfect Produce

        • Turner Wyatt on October 29, 2018 at 8:29 pm

          Why is commodification of food waste dangerous?

    • Aaron on September 14, 2018 at 3:53 am

      Hi Jen, I’m curious as to what you found so powerful about this? I don’t see any facts or sources in this article? As someone who has researched food waste a good amount, I can promise you that Imperfect is not stealing from food banks. You can check (website by food banks) for legitimate facts and statistics on food waste, and I highly suggest it. Shame on you Phatbeets for writing such a ridiculous and incomplete article.

    • Raquel on September 14, 2018 at 7:03 pm

      Did you do any additional research after reading this article, or did you just take Phat Beets word for it? They make a bold claim that Imperfect is taking food that would otherwise go to food banks but provide ZERO quotes or factual sources to back it up.

      I for one am sad that so many people are jumping on the bandwagon here without asking important follow-up questions. All the research I’ve done has led me to believe that Imperfect is nothing but a net donor to food banks across the country. So again, why all the baseless outrage?

      If you’re choosing a CSA because your top goal as an eater is to support small/local, that’s awesome, but if you’re jumping ship just because these claims “sounded like” something that a larger company would do than I’d urge you to take some time to learn more. From what I know about food waste, it’s such a huge problem in America that we need MORE companies/nonprofits actively engaged in diverting waste, not less just because a small nonprofit is angry about lost sales.

      • Maureen on September 14, 2018 at 8:35 pm

        Totally agreed. I’m amazed so many people believed these ridiculous claims at face value. Where is the proof, Phat Beets? Not everything that has money behind it is evil by default.

        No company is perfect and if you’re 100% anti-capitalist as it seems this Max guy is, then you’ll never be happy with what a company does to address food waste or reduce the price of fresh vegetables (both noble goals, in my opinion). It seems like they’ve done the classic logical fallacy of confusing an “is” with an “ought.” I get being offended about food injustice, but they’d be just as pissed if McDonalds made up fake things about them. I don’t get this organization at all.

        If you look at their Wikipedia page, it has a whole section that outlines how they repeatedly beef with other organizations like Grease Box and offend their neighbors and lose CSA customers through their rhetoric. This type of outrage baiting seems to be their thing. Good for you, I guess?

  2. Sheila Coren-Tissot on August 17, 2018 at 5:51 pm

    Thankyou for the article. It’s difficult to change things but you are admirable and persevering and you will do it ! You are part of what is great in America! Thank you ! My sister is a gleaner and I am proud of her and her husband and friends !

  3. G. Dejamco on August 17, 2018 at 9:02 pm

    Thank you for this article and sharing with us this INJUSTICE that Ugly Produce is doing. Ugly Produce is truly an example of profit by deceit and case example of neoliberalism at the moment. I hope to support Phat Beets Produce and other like-minded organizations that serve our communities. Thank you for your work. Let’s keep working together. We will not be defeated. Spreading the word.

    • Cathy Phillips on August 21, 2018 at 11:48 pm

      Help spread the word and share on your or Imperfect’s facebook page.

    • Kat on September 14, 2018 at 1:50 am

      I’m concerned – do you like to get paid for your work? There is plenty of produce that goes to waste, and paying farmers who have put a lot of time, effort and money into their crops seems like a good thing. Since Imperfect only buys in larger quantities, I would think there are A LOT of smaller farms that would be happy to donate. I assume they get a tax write off – is that Neoliberalism as well? Since Imperfect donates the unsold produce to food banks, the food banks may be getting a fair amount of food that would go to waste otherwise. I would be interested in hearing how many food banks have seen a decline in the produce they receive because of Imperfect.

      You might also be interested to know that Imperfect pays a living wage – a believe the minimum is $15/hour. Perhaps what this country needs is more social entrepreneurial businesses that care about the environment and their employees.

    • Sarah on September 14, 2018 at 5:00 pm

      i’m not so sure about this, they’re making a lot of accusations but i’m not seeing any facts to back up their claims. wheres their evidence that Imperfect takes from food banks? Have food banks told them that theyre losing food? has anyone seen any sources for this?

      i saw Imperfect’s rebuttal ( and it looks like 20 billion pounds of fruits and veggies are going to waste every year. Why don’t we focus on fixing that instead of tearing down a company that seems to be helping

  4. Jessica Sisto on August 17, 2018 at 11:42 pm

    Not only is this article insightful, it’s super well-written. Bravo! As a current Imperfect Produce customer, you’ve caused me to think twice about where I get my groceries and how I spend my money. If you have a list of alternative produce delivery / CSAs to recommend, with delivery to San Francisco, I’m all ears!

    • Shari Miller on August 18, 2018 at 8:26 pm

      Eatwell Farm CSA.

    • Lindsay on August 18, 2018 at 11:22 pm

      Hi Jessica! I’m not affiliated with Phat Beets, I’m just another reader. But I live in SF too, and really highly recommend Pie Ranch and Eatwell Farm’s CSAs! Both can be picked up in San Francisco!

    • Aaron Simon on September 14, 2018 at 4:05 am

      I am surprised that an article making such harsh claims would give no sources and really no facts. In fact this article caught the eye of a real food waste expert, Robert Egger, and he has completely shut down this article. On twitter he says “Plus, there’s 20 billion pounds wasted on farms every year after food banks and #nonprofits get theirs. Here are some facts from the food banks themselves: . I’m also working with groups like @Imperfectfruit @WCKitchen to create jobsrobert egger added,
      robert egger
      @Turnipdembeets Deeply bummed to hear your Beet Box sales went down. I feel your pain. It’s a fucking incredible program. But pissing all over @Imperfectfruit ain’t the solution. I’ve known Ben since he started @FoodRecovery & he’s 100%. I’m happy to compare notes if interested”
      I’m blown away that Phatbeets hasn’t removed this article and apologized by now. If they have some objective information that was not included in this article, I would love to know, but it just does not seem that way.

      • Max Cadji on September 24, 2018 at 4:40 am

        Hmmm. Just spoke with Robert Egger on Friday in reference to what he had to say about the commodification of food waste in April 2018….

        “Farmers used to be like, ‘Hey man, I can’t sell this, so I’m going to give this to the food bank.’ That’s happening less and less,” he says. “The market forces are driving food waste towards reinvestment and profitability versus down towards charity. What will happen in three years, six years, or nine years demands a vigorous re-examination of our food system.”- Robert Egger, LA Kitchen*

        “Everybody’s so excited about the environmental aspect, but sadly what the unintended consequences in the future is that when food banks and pantries are pressed harder due to an aging population, that food that used to be donated will be at a premium,” Egger says. “After all, all donated food is lost profits.”- Robert Egger, LA Kitchen*

        As we noted, commodification of food waste is very dangerous. We would like to share the true intentions of Imperfect Produce in their own words. Their own CEO wants to be in control of the entire “food waste” stream, what impact will this have to consolidate? Please understand. We stand by our article and unfortunately we will see this play out over the next 5 years in a very troubling fashion.

        “There’s really about six billion pounds of fruits and veggies going to waste every year because of their cosmetic challenges, so our vision is to get as much as possible of that six billion pounds to market.” – Ben Simon, Co-Founder of Imperfect Produce

  5. Stephanie Lucas on August 18, 2018 at 12:30 am

    Yes, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

    • Anni Levaggi on August 18, 2018 at 1:51 am

      Hi Stephie!!

    • Alexis on September 14, 2018 at 8:48 pm

      The road to outrageous op-eds is paved with a lack of sources and a biased agenda. They wrote this because they lost customers, which is indeed sad, but in their anger, they forgot to back up any of their claims. I’d encourage you to seek out the facts and ask some critical questions. The notion that their (admirable) effort to try to find a home for the 20 billion pounds of food that go to waste on farms every year is somehow robbing food banks is laughable. What’s more laughable is that so many believed it without doing any research.

      The food bank and nonprofit community have come out in full force in support of Imperfect, not Phat Beets. This is for a reason. Their certainly angry, but being angry doesn’t make you right.

      The world is so much less black and white than this polarizing group has painted it.
      Check out ReFed’s report on this issue:
      Or Project Drawdown’s:

  6. Susana Gallardo on August 18, 2018 at 12:31 am

    Thank you so much for this! I had grown disenchanted with the one-use box, and the taste of imperfect produce….and now……I just cancelled and will find a local program. THANK YOU!

  7. Eric on August 18, 2018 at 12:46 am

    Wow. I had no idea. Really appreciate this insightful article.

    • Raquel on September 14, 2018 at 7:17 pm

      Insightful? It was a hatchet piece by a rival company with zero sources. What was so insightful about it?

      I’m not trying to be mean here, but I’m curious why attacking a mission-driven company with no factual basis for the attacks is laudable. The fact that this is getting paraded as a victory for food justice journalism is a bit laughable. I’m not saying that PB hasn’t lost sales. It sounds like they have and I agree that this is too bad. But they provide zero evidence for their “dark secret” claim that Imperfect is taking produce from food banks.

      Is the issue here that PB is bitter that their customers chose a different way to get groceries? Or that Imperfect is actually doing something wrong? I for one have found zero evidence that they’re hurting food banks and a surprising amount of it that suggests they’re actually INCREASING the amount of food available to food banks and low-income folks. I also see no evidence of this “false” marketing everyone keeps talking about. Where are these cute small farms that Imperfect is supposedly parading around? They’re actually pretty upfront about sourcing from larger growers since these are the ones with potential food waste (and also the same ones that are providing your local Whole Foods or Safeway with produce, lets’ not forget).

      It’s too easy to be outraged on the internet. Is this something that’s even worth being outraged about? I have a lot of doubts and invite you to ask the hard but important questions here.

  8. J M on August 18, 2018 at 3:27 am

    You repeated several times that Imperfect takes produce that would otherwise go to food banks. Imperfect says they do not. Where is your proof that they do?

    • Anna Y on August 21, 2018 at 11:43 pm

      I also would like clarification on this point. I agree that Imperfect is capitalizing on the overproduction of big agriculture, but I also work with food banks/food recovery organizations and have not gotten the impression that they have lost any access to free or reduced price produce because of Imperfect -in fact I’ve heard there is plenty of unwanted produce to go around. Regardless, this is an important critique and I am considering cancelling my Imperfect subscription but am not sure a CSA membership is for me (it is troublesome to keep up with what comes in the boxes, as I don’t want to waste food). Perhaps I’ll shop direct at City Slickers, Mandela Marketplace or farmer’s market instead.

      • Arnaud on August 22, 2018 at 7:50 am

        Any proof on this claim?

      • Caryn S. on August 25, 2018 at 8:03 pm

        FYI, at least my CSA (Eatwell Farm) is very flexible with scheduling and holding deliveries. You can sign up for reasonablely sized boxes every other week and hold a week’s box as late as Sunday of delivery week through the easy to use online portal. But you still get a weekly farm newsletter with your box, so you know what your farm community is up to!

    • Raquel on September 14, 2018 at 6:57 pm

      Seconded. Why is no one else demanding that Phat beets provide a source ANYWHERE for this outlandish claim? I also work with many food pantries and all of my colleagues have nothing but nice things to say about Imperfect and what they’re doing. I’ve heard directly from several food banks in Chicago that Imperfect is actually a huge net positive for them, that they’re actually getting MORE produce than ever before. Here’s a quote from Amanda of the Westchester Food Pantry that I found in Imperfect’s blog post about their 3rd birthday:

      “Before Imperfect, there were NO large produce donations for us. There were no farmers or companies trying to give us produce. None. It was what we got from Greater Chicago Food Depository or nothing at all. Thanks to Imperfect, we’ve gotten more produce than ever before for our clients.”
      Phat Beets, are you implying that Amanda is lying? I saw her and another woman from a Chicago food bank chime in here that Imperfect is nothing but a net positive for their food supply. So I repeat my question: Where is your evidence that Imperfect is taking from food banks?

    • Max Cadji on September 24, 2018 at 6:42 am

      Thanks for bringing that up. I am not sure how Imperfect can claim they aren’t taking produce that would be destined for food banks, when NPR lays out how large agribusiness donates to food banks in the article below. A question to consider: Does Imperfect avoid growers that already work with Food Bank?. The process outlined in this article below is how this broccoli or cauliflower would end up in an Imperfect Single Use Box as they sources “seconds” or ugly produce at a very large scale. Are you aware that the the California Farm to Family program (program that gets ugly produce to California food banks via tax credit and price per lbs payment) that is cited in the article was operated and implemented by Ron Clark when he worked for the California Association of Food Bank, and he is now one of the cofounders of Imperfect Produce? Interesting that the person that sources for Imperfect Produce now (Ron Clark-co founder) helped develop the model with the California Association of Food Banks that imperfect uses to source produce from Agribusiness and agricultural brokers.

      We are working with a masters student to dive fully into the topic and provide a thorough picture of the process in the next 6 months. The findings will be published as an academic paper and we will address many of the valid concerns that have been brought up in response to to the blog. Thank you for your interest in the topic and for asking for more information. Please feel to push back, this is a very complicated issue and the blog was meant to bring it to the general public in a format that stimulated conversation and analysis.

      From the NPR article:
      “And some producers, including Ocean Mist and HMC Farms, donate some of the less-than-perfect produce to California food banks.
      Over the past decade, the California Association of Food Banks says it has doubled the amount of produce it distributes, thanks in part to these kinds of donations. “This year, we hope to grow the California Farm to Family program by over 70 million pounds,” says Paul Ash, executive director of the San Francisco Marin Food Banks. He hopes to expand the program to other parts of the country.

      The marketplace demands white, blemish-free, perfectly sized heads of cauliflower. So that’s almost all of what workers pick.
      Allison Aubrey/NPR Part of that growth has been fueled by a novel way of collecting surplus produce. For cauliflower and broccoli growers, who pack their products in the field as they’re being harvested, there’s now a co-packing system. As the workers slice and harvest the crop, they pack the premium heads in boxes headed to grocery stores. They separate out the less-than-perfect seconds and pack them in crates destined for the food banks”

      • Raquel on September 27, 2018 at 1:19 am

        Hey Max,

        I appreciate your commitment to civil debate, but I still don’t follow your logic, and reading these comments it seems that many of us feel that way. In the interest of understanding your point of view better, can you please clarify the following points for me?
        1. How does the existence of farm to family prove that Imperfect and the “ugly” produce movement are adversely affecting food banks? All you’ve proven by sharing this article is that some CA food banks do get ugly produce, a fact that Imperfect never denied to begin with. If you earnestly believed that Imperfect selling ugly produce was reducing what food banks got, why didn’t you find any quotes, stats, or facts that demonstrated that food banks were receiving less fresh produce as a result? I’ve yet to hear from ANYONE of my contacts that work in the food bank world that they’ve been impacted at all by companies buying ugly produce from farmers. I’ve read several quotes in the comments of this very blog post you wrote from folks that work at food banks and nonprofits that have received MORE produce as a result of Imperfect. Are their experiences invalid and wrong because you’re angry at losing sales? I get why you want to paint this company as the villain here, but it doesn’t seem to me that the reality is as black and white and bleak as you’re painting it. What am I missing?
        2. On a larger level, with billions of pounds of produce getting wasted every year, why does it matter that one company has found a way to profit off of some of the would-be waste? Isn’t making vegetables more affordable and accessible a goal of both of your organizations?
        3. Based on your worldview that selling ugly food isn’t the solution, answer this question: What should happen to the billions of pounds of ugly/surplus fruits and veggies that are going to waste every year on farms instead of getting sold? Should they just go to waste because you dislike market-based solutions? Farm to Family, which you cite as ugly food feeding the hungry (a great program, I agree) is currently sourcing 160MM lbs or so of this produce. Thats a fraction of even the most conservative estimates of the total. So what happens to the remainder? Without “ugly” food, it would just stay in the field. Isn’t this also an injustice?
        4. Do you not think that we should be addressing food waste as a society? I’m confused how all of the experts agree that we need to be wasting less food and yet you’re coming out publicly and trying to downplay it as a problem because you take issue with how one company is addressing it. (I highly recommend you checking out some of this research, by the way:
        4. What do you say to the farmers that are growing the “ugly” produce of the world? Do you honestly expect them to donate all of their surplus? I hate to break it to you, but in the labor, land, and capital-intensive business that is farming, no one would be able to stay afloat if they had to donate 10-30% of their harvest every year. You do realize that farmers prefer to sell ugly produce as opposed to donate it because they have to pay their workers, right? Are you opposed to them being able to pay their workers? I know you’re really pro-small/local farms, but the reality is that medium and larger farms feed most of our country. Your outlook seems to imply that these folks don’t deserve to be able to sell more of what they grow and pay their workers wages. This would just make the already fraught and unpredictable work of farming even harder for the growers and coops that feed our country. Why would that be a good thing?
        5. Are you opposed to all capitalist solutions to problems like food waste? I hear this implied in your answers, but would like to know: do you object to Imperfect because of how they’re addressing this issue (and your sales) or would you object to ANY company trying to solve food waste with a market-based solution? Just as you’ve pushed Imperfect to be up-front about being a VC backed for profit company, I’d like to push you now to be upfront about your worldview. Do you identify as a socialist? An Anarchist? Something else? I don’t ask this in a rude or confrontational way (I have friends/family members that are upfront about being socialists, anarchists ,etc), but I do think it would help a lot of us reading this debate to understand if you’re opposed to one company because of how they’re behaving or that you’re opposed to any company because you reject a capitalist food system entirely.
        Thanks in advance for your thoughtful answers!

  9. Wakuda on August 18, 2018 at 4:25 am

    Appreciate this. I was a customer for a bit during their trial run but it was never a great deal. Now I now it was worse…

  10. Leah Carroll on August 18, 2018 at 5:07 am

    And the ugly produce is *not* organic.

    • Adriana on August 20, 2018 at 5:23 am

      Leah – There is a choice between conventional and organic. Are you saying that the organic is not actually organic?

    • Roselynn Ressa on August 20, 2018 at 5:44 pm

      You have the choice to select organic – just saying.

      • Vic on September 15, 2018 at 12:59 pm

        You choose organic or don’t choose it from Imperfect. About half the customers do, and pay 15-20% more. You saying the produce is not organic shows you never even went on their website, Leah Carroll!

    • Laurel on August 21, 2018 at 8:56 am

      I have questioned this myself. Seems like a lot of “organic” comes out of Mexico. I don’t know their law’s and regulations that qualify their product’s as organic.

      • adriana on August 23, 2018 at 4:37 am

        Laurel – my presumption is that they would need to meet the US standards

    • Golson on August 24, 2018 at 12:36 am

      Being so-called ‘organic ‘ or not labeled ‘organic ‘ has nothing to do with whether or not it is ‘imperfect ‘

    • kathy on August 28, 2018 at 2:57 am

      you can sign up for organic at a higher price.

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  16. Courtnee Fallon Rex on August 18, 2018 at 6:04 am

    THANK YOU. I was sucked into this when they opened in Seattle, got a subscription as a gift, but after a few months I realized what a fucking scam it was. Been waiting for this article to be written since before I closed my account, and am really happy to see it written so thoroughly from people with credible insight and related experience in the field of food justice. Right the fuck on. Keep Going.

  17. […] Read More […]

  18. […] Source: read more […]

  19. Kathi on August 18, 2018 at 7:09 am

    Yep, thanks for the info! Cancelled my subscription and will find a true CSA program to continue the good fight. Thanks again!

  20. […] Imperfect Produce sells a market solution disguised as activism, undermining social justice initiatives like those implemented by Phat Beets Produce.Read More […]

  21. Jack on August 18, 2018 at 10:58 am

    ‘Farmers of color ‘?

    Thanks for your racist program

    • Erik on August 23, 2018 at 4:58 pm

      If I may ask, why do you conclude that Phat Beets’ program is racist?

  22. Carol Girt on August 18, 2018 at 12:30 pm

    I’m an Imperfect Produce consumer. I heard of the program from a friend. I like the program because 1). The food comes to me. 2). I get food I tend not to buy at the grocery. 3). It gives me a better chance at a better diet. I recycle the box or use it for other things.
    These other companies don’t seem to be available. I have yet to hear about them in my community. They could use word of mouth to get things going. Word can spread fast at no cost to the company. We need to hear about these programs to be able to use them.
    It does disappoint me that Imperfect Produce does use small farmers and other things they advertise. But until other programs present themselves, we take what hear and see available.

    • Erik Ferry on August 23, 2018 at 4:56 pm

      Why not switch to a Phat Beets Beetbox subscription — unless it does not serve your location.

  23. Douglas Dollars on August 18, 2018 at 2:01 pm

    Thank you from an IP customer who appreciates hearing this, for the first time, not from the source that should have been telling it.

  24. John on August 18, 2018 at 2:05 pm

    My wife and I tried imperfect produce years ago and noticed all of it was coming from large farms and was not as good quality as we had come to expect from a true CSA. It was also coming from farms all over the west coast, whereas our previous CSA was delivered by the farm itself (less then 100 miles away). We quit, knowing there was something fishy going on, but would never have been able to see the social impact of our decisions without this post. Thank you for the information!

    • Aaron on September 14, 2018 at 4:12 am

      Most of the 20+ billion pounds of produce that gets wasted on farms each year comes from big farms. I’m not opposed in anyway to buying local, but imperfect is fighting food waste on a large scale. They have already saved 30 million pounds of food from being wasted and have definitely not taken any food from food banks or poor people. This article is pretty bogus…

  25. Misty on August 18, 2018 at 3:20 pm

    I might not be homeless. However, I am so broke that I could benifit from the food bank.
    For those of us that work 40+ per week and are not able to provide healthy produce to our children could use this. I think its a great idea to help more than just those that go to a food bank or cannot because food bank hours are the same hours for those of us that work.
    The struggle is real.

  26. Claudia de Oliveira on August 18, 2018 at 4:51 pm

    Thanks for this very informative article. It made me think about my current Imperfect Produce subscription. I do want to support local farmers and reduce food waste. Any suggestions on how to support my local farmers in the San Jose area? Thanks again!

    • Max Cadji on August 20, 2018 at 1:14 am

      There are a lot of farms in hollister and watsonville that have CSA’s that deliver to San Jose. Best bet would be to connect with Veggielution and I am sure they will have a lot more info for you.

    • Julie on August 22, 2018 at 11:18 pm

      Spade and Plow is in SanJose

  27. Ed on August 18, 2018 at 5:31 pm

    I just looked at the Imperfect Produce FAQ page you referenced and they have updated their answer to this question. They state that 160 million lbs of produce is donated to the CA Food Bank each year, which lines up with what you are saying. They go on to reference a NRDC study and claim that conservative estimates put the net waste (after food bank donations, processors, and feedlot distributions) at 3 billion pounds per year in CA alone. These numbers don’t line up with what you are saying in terms of how there isn’t enough to go around for free. Are these net waste numbers wrong?

    It does seem sinister that a company would be in the business of selling something to one group of folks with means that would otherwise be distributed for free to those in need. But if there is actually as much for waste as IP claims, they might actually be keeping some waste out of landfills. It’s really hard to know what’s actually going on aside from the fact that SO much food is being wasted!

    One interesting point in the NRDC paper was about a program with farmers and the CA Food Bank. Basically the food bank covers the cost of the harvest and logistics so farms can essentially do a simultaneous harvest of marketable and unmarketable produce; the unmarketable produce goes to the food bank, the farm gets a tax write off, and it all happens on the farm. The problem is that even though the cost of this program is about $0.10 – $0.15/pound of produce, only 6 out of 41 CA food banks could afford that.

    What I would love to see is a way for orgs like PhatBeets have access to tech that would allow them to retain and build their customer base.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  28. Eddie on August 18, 2018 at 6:09 pm

    Hey not saying I don’t believe you guys, this actually makes sooooo much sense. But you forgot rule number 1 which is cite your sources. Can you please link to the published studies that you refer to? Of course anyone can do their owb homework, but if you’re going to write an article like this the burden of proof is on you tho.

    • Moana on August 22, 2018 at 7:57 pm


  29. Michele Amato on August 18, 2018 at 6:17 pm

    I appreciate the article but since it’s written by the very company that has the issues with imperfect produce. Seems fairly biased. I’m not saying it’s in accurate, but I’d like to see an article written by an outside party not affliated with either company.

    • Max Cadji on August 20, 2018 at 1:24 am

      We are sharing our experience in the format of a blog, we are biased in the fact that we have been seriously impacted. This is a birds eye view of what is happening and offers many perspectives

      We are talking about a troubling trend, which will have serious impacts 3-5 years down the road. Food First will be releasing a few more in-depth papers on the subject. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.

      • Maureen on September 14, 2018 at 8:28 pm

        You presented your experience that framed several huge bombshell accusations with zero sources. Burdon of proof is on you here. Are you going to walk back the claim that Imperfect is taking food that would have otherwise gone to food banks? Or are you just going to own that lie? I’ve seen nothing but evidence that Imperfect is a net donor to food banks, that food banks like Imperfect, and that there are billions of pounds of produce that never make it to food banks even after all the work Imperfect, Ugly Juice, and Hungry Harvest are doing.

        It seems like your goal is actually to encourage large-scale capitalists to stop overproducing food. All your arguments boil down to this at the end, so why didn’t you just start there? Why does a legitimate discussion of the economics of food have to involve throwing mud on a social enterprise? Doesn’t that dilute the very argument you claim to value so much?

        Let’s flip the script here. If someone accused Phat Beets in an outrageous op-ed on their blog of abusing communities of color and denying them food, wouldn’t you ask that they provided proof of such a provocative claim? I get that you’ve lost customers to Imperfect and I’m truly sorry. But you losing customers doesn’t mean that Imperfect is taking from food banks. That’s a huge logical fallacy that your article made and it’s really messed up. Being offended doesn’t give you the right to make things up.

  30. Eddie on August 18, 2018 at 6:20 pm

    Nevermind, I’m a dumbass, couldn’t see links in your article for some reason.

  31. CA on August 18, 2018 at 6:24 pm

    Hella well-written, behavior-changing words. Write well, right wrongs, rouse & raise! Phat Beets, great job. I’m spreading the news.

  32. Lynda on August 18, 2018 at 8:16 pm

    This was an intriguing article.
    I’m in the situation where I have had to use the foodbank, because produce is expensive here ($4 for a head of lettuce, $5 if you get it at a farmers market), and CSAs are utterly out of my reach finance wise.
    Imperfect Produce would bring being able to buy my own food, instead of getting it from a food bank, into my reach, if it sets up in my area.
    Now I don’t know what to do. Keep going to the food bank? Support greedy capitalism by purchasing what I am able to?

    • Max Cadji on August 20, 2018 at 1:26 am

      You should do what is right and dignified for you. We are not asking for a boycott of imperfect produce, if their service is valuable to you please do use it and price and mobility are real concerns. We hope they change their marketing, because they are a tech company that distributes produce seconds, they are not in the business of supporting local economy or small farmers.

      • Ckobielski on August 21, 2018 at 12:33 am

        Your clarifying words are Noble and respectable, max. I admire you and the work you do and the fight to keep your program thriving. It’s unfortunate your organization was negatively affected. Your request that they update their marketing is completely fair. Thank you for understanding that it is difficult for some of us not to take advantage of a business like IP. Getting to and taking time to go to local farmers markets is difficult for many. Having a semi customizable box of organic produce come to my door and trying a new vegetable because it’s whats offered when I would not have purchased it otherwise, are both positive reasons I chose to try IP. I appreciate your education on its effects on smaller, local programs.

      • Maureen on September 14, 2018 at 8:30 pm

        I’ve seen zero evidence that they’ve claimed to support small or local farmers. Their sourcing page, in fact, states that their top goal in sourcing is to “follow the waste.” Since large growers grow for grocery standards, they have the most waste, and this is what they buy. I’m genuinely curious, where are these “deceptive” marketing materials you keep referring to?

  33. Shari Miller on August 18, 2018 at 8:33 pm

    Thank you for this important and well written piece. I had been considering Imperfect Produce, but after reading this will not pursue it any further. I had been involved with Eatwell Farm CSA and loved it. I will return to them. I wish Phat Beets was in Vallejo. I’ve learned a lot about food justice from your organization.

    • Max Cadji on August 20, 2018 at 1:28 am

      Eatwell is an amazing farm and so close to vallejo (well winters is pretty close 🙂 )

  34. george on August 18, 2018 at 11:43 pm

    i don’t think you have it right… seems to me like they source most of their food straight from producers, they offer a lower price than terminal markets, but higher than processors get. basically, they don’t do much, or really ANYTHING to stop food waste. but they sit there on the street corner and tell everyone that they are preventing produce from ending up in the landfill.

    if you are losing business to them, i think you are suffering damages from a competitor that uses deceptive advertising. COUGH LAWSUIT.

  35. Roy on August 19, 2018 at 6:41 am

    Thank you for this. For those of us not in the bay area, is there a central directory of find local places like you?

    • Libby C. on August 28, 2018 at 10:48 pm

      Local Harvest maintains the most comprehensive list of CSAs in the United States. I would recommend checking out the operations website and giving them a call to see if it is a good fit for you.

  36. Sylvia on August 19, 2018 at 12:03 pm

    I wonder what the partnership offer was, nothing more is mentioned about that. Was it rejected on moral grounds due to “the commodification of food waste”? I would like to know more about that.

  37. Jen on August 19, 2018 at 3:00 pm

    Wow. Thank you for the very important info! I always thought imperfect’s marketing campaign was a little too perfect, but still, I was pulled in. But, while I did subscribe for a while, the fact that they wouldn’t pick up thier boxes made me cancel. Glad I did!

  38. ThoughtExperiment on August 19, 2018 at 5:01 pm

    I want more data. I am going to ask imperfect produce to explain there side as well. World doesn’t come in primary colors. I hope there is room here for coexistence and cooperation.

    My personal thoughts:
    1) I didn’t know about phat beets or any of the groups and efforts mentioned in the article. The muscle of money by imperfect produce made me aware of that there are ways to fight food waste. That is a net gain to the greater good.

    2) Imperfect food success (I don’t know if they make profit, I assume they do) means it found a value it could fetch money for. That is by itself not a evil thing. I personally would have subscribed to similar service if someone else had offered it before. Yes that is not just capitalism, but change in the works.

    3) imperfect produce likely created employement for their delivery, sorters, collectors, etc. I can’t in good conscience diminish that contribution to society. And nature of those jobs means they are significantly local

    4) the article mentions they had approached phat beets and maybe others for partnering. What was involved in that offer and why did it not get anywhere – I am very eager to understand that.

    5) Corollary to that – can that conversation be reopened now to see if there is a way for both sides to share and coexist in some way instead of polarized existential battle?

    6) the article says imperfect produce doesn’t help smaller growers. While organizations like phat beet do. So the net loss in free produce that this article speaks of is of that from the larger growers? If I understand this correctly, that is the kind of volume that needs larger transportation muscle that imperfect produce brought. Did organizations like phat beet have such muscle? I am trying to understand exactly how much in concrete numbers did phat beet like organizations lose out to imperfect produce? Is that a zero sum – that is imperfect produce gobbled the same or almost the same as phat beet or alike group loss? The reason I ask is numbers will clarify the details. It is obvious to me that larger transport muscle and money offered to growers definitely sucked out what was available to pre imperfect produce organizations. But I want to tease out the data on whether there was produce that was anyhow now accessible to these smaller groups and how much was it. Because if the money muscle of imperfect produce helped suck out more produce that was destined to waste, then it can’t not be looked at an evil thing.

    I personally care for both these camps to thrive and live for the greater good. Change is life. So inevitably something old is going to change. New is going to fight to exist. Question is: is there room for collaborative coexistence for mutual longevity?

    • Max Cadji on August 20, 2018 at 2:00 am

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and questions. Stay tuned for a much longer, more in-depth piece on the whole food tech ugly produce business coming out later this year.

      To address your point around employment, imperfect has created large numbers of below living wage jobs for their warehouse staff. Walmart creates jobs as does safeway, and many others. We are not calling for a boycott, this is food for thought. The greater good involves cooperatives and mutual aide, not venture back capital.

      • John Schoneman on August 29, 2018 at 1:57 pm

        A quick look at the open positions on their website shows that their warehouse associate jobs pay $14 /hr. I couldn’t find any position that paid less than this decent wage.

        • Max Cadji on September 2, 2018 at 5:32 pm

          Living wage in Oakland is $17.50, in San Francsico its around $19.38 per hour

      • Vic on September 15, 2018 at 2:44 pm

        Max, You’re displaying your ignorance again. Imperfect is paying warehouse people and drivers in San Francisco a minimum of $16.50 an hour plus good benefits, while the city and state minimums are still below $15 with no benefits. But that’s OK, Max, your method is making up facts. Counting LA, San Diego, Portland, Seattle, Chicago, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, and San Antonio, that’s hundreds of people well ahead of minimum wage.
        By the way, Max, what does Phat Beets pay its people? And what benefits?

        • Max Cadji on September 17, 2018 at 5:09 pm

          The living wage in San Francisco is $19.00 per hour

          • Kat on September 18, 2018 at 4:15 am

            How much do you pay your employees and what benefits do they receive?

          • Max Cadji on September 24, 2018 at 2:41 am

            We pay all of our high school youth staff $15/hr and adult staff make between $16.5-$21. Living wage for Oakland was $17.5 and we have been working very hard to move all our staff including youth to a minimum of $17.5 an hour. We have no full time staff and we are very small non-profit.

    • Elissa on August 21, 2018 at 2:46 am

      Thanks for posing these questions and making these points. I would definitely be interested in learning more. Some critical thought when considering both “sides” is always required. Cheers

  39. Leah on August 19, 2018 at 5:27 pm

    I saw Wasted, Anthony Bourdain’s final film, a couple months ago here in Portland, Oregon. The screening was sponsored by Imperfect Produce. Inspired to reduce food waste, I considered signing up for the service, but was prevented from doing so because they were not yet delivering to my area. But they took down my information. They said they were rapidly expanding delivery to outside the city. I’m glad I saw this article before they got to me. I will seriously reconsider. While I am a fan of capitalism finding uses for excess product or byproducts, I also support equity and social justice. Too few people have access to fresh and healthy foods and I don’t want to add to the problem. I think I’ll volunteer at my local food bank instead of using my privilege to have a box of produce dropped at my doorstep. I want to help those in need, not a start-up masking as environmental heros.

  40. DJ EX Dick on August 19, 2018 at 5:27 pm

    “The Commodification of Need” is such a powerful phrase. It needs to be an album title.
    Great article! Informative with an eye opening perspective. Will definitely look into CSA-type alternatives to Imperfect Produce in my area.

  41. Patricia Lawrence on August 19, 2018 at 6:16 pm

    Thank you for this article. Canceling my subscription todag. Hello Phat Beets !

  42. D on August 19, 2018 at 8:38 pm

    I always turned a lifted eyebrow towards the imperfect produce idea. I just preferred to seek out my local farmers because I can see them and talk to them. Now, it makes sense to me, that feeling that something was not quite as gold as it seemed. Thank you for sharing your story.

  43. Patricia Pierce Layden on August 19, 2018 at 9:47 pm

    Well, shoot! I’ve been getting the ugly produce box. Real handy and a good easy website. I’m on the west coast… Guess I should look for something else…?

    • Max Cadji on August 20, 2018 at 1:53 am

      You should do what is best for you and your family. We are not calling for a boycott, just pushing back on the false narrative they are creating that is impacting small producers negatively. If they were more honest with their advertisements and their venture capital and said “we are like grocery outlet, but deliver produce to your home”, that would be more accurate and consumers could make a decision with more knowledge. We do think they are pushing the industry to be more creative and causing small orgs like ourselves to be better and tighter to stay afloat.

  44. Metcy on August 19, 2018 at 11:27 pm

    …… why doesnt someone donate better quality produce to food banks. Are we really saying those that cannot afford perfect fresh produce only get to have ugly food from food banks?!wow…

    • Max Cadji on August 20, 2018 at 1:38 am

      We provide perfect produce to our free farm stands and to our allied community groups every week (less now because we no longer have profits from our CSA, but we have 4 urban ag parcels we also harvest from to provide to our communities). You are right all people deserve the best and healthiest possible food.

  45. Colleen on August 19, 2018 at 11:57 pm

    I’m an Oakland local and a (now former) Imperfect Produce subscriber. I had no idea of the negative implications of the company. Thank you for this well researched and eye opening article. Just finalized my Phat Beats subscription.

    • Max Cadji on August 20, 2018 at 1:50 am

      Thanks for your support!

  46. Kath Moller on August 20, 2018 at 12:37 am

    I am concerned that for all the raising of awareness that “you can eat imperfect produce too” selling produce as ugly actually perpetuates the expectation that the produce in supermarkets will still attain aesthetic standards, instead of just selling the fruit and veg as it comes. Remembering that all natural things grow with variation is a healthy corrective to the plastic perfection of consumer driven society.
    I am a founding member of a community garden and continue to be amazed that many of our volunteers throw things into the compost that I consider good food for a stir-fry or for soup, and if not that, then to take home and feed to my chickens. As you may have guessed, I have only a small compost at my own house!

  47. Amanda Grant on August 20, 2018 at 3:54 am

    I have a few issues with the article and the information you are providing, at least as it pertains to my communities (western Chicago suburbs) and my food pantry experience.

    In this country, a ridiculous amount of food never makes it to market, either because it is too ugly or there’s just too much of it. Grocery store standards are so incredibly strict and they will not take ugly or misshapen produce. So what happens to that food? I’m sure some gets donated, but truthfully a lot of it goes to waste. There just isn’t a good infrastructure in place, at least not one that I know of in my area, to get excess produce to pantries and people in need. “Just Eat It” is an amazing documentary on this subject.

    This is where Imperfect Produce steps in. They buy what would otherwise go to waste, and get it to people who are willing to buy it. For those who are customers, and I am one, we can pick and choose what goes into our box, and we know the reason it is there (ie. surplus, wind scarring, smaller than normal size, etc.). I’ll admit that I’ve never purchased from a CSA before. It was too expensive for me and I didn’t like not knowing what would arrive. As an IP customer, my thoughts are that they are actually pulling my dollars from large chain stores where I would otherwise purchase these things. I still shop at the local farm stand whenever possible, and I’ll purchase from farmers’ markets when I have the time/energy to attend (there isn’t one in my suburb).

    As a food pantry director, I can tell you that IP has been a HUGE donor for us. The offerings from the Greater Chicago Food Depository are very limited, and we can only order produce twice a month. Before IP, that meant that clients coming in on the delivery weeks got produce, but those coming in on the other weeks went without. That’s not okay.

    With IP, we pick up every week and distribute the produce that night to our clients. While we never know what we will get and how much, we’ve found it has been a considerable amount each week, more than twice what we receive from GCFD and it is a much bigger variety. Thanks to IP, GCFD, the local farmstand, local gardening groups and individual farmers (and the occasional food reclamation bonanza), we can offer our clients up to 20 different kids of produce each week. Clients can choose what they like, and we even provide recipes and advice on how to prepare foods that clients might be unfamiliar with. Fresh produce is where the nutrition is, and we understand how important this nutrition is to the clients we serve.

    In the winter, when produce is scarce and local gardens are memories, it has been IP that we truly rely on. Often in the winter, their donation might be the only produce we have for our clients. And let me be very clear: before IP, there were NO large produce donations for us. There were no farmers or agriculture companies trying to give us produce. NONE. It was what we got from GCFD or nothing at all. Now, of course, we’ve diversified our resources quite a bit so that we are getting fresh produce from several places in the summer and 3-4 in the winter. More clients means that we need more produce. I’m happy to save all the food I can and get it to the people who need it, and I believe IP supports this work.

    The article’s main claim that IP is sucking up food that would have otherwise gone to food banks is, in my opinion and as it pertains to my particular area of Cook County (which is where my experience is), complete BS. Thanks to IP, we’ve gotten MORE produce than ever before for our clients. The folks at IP are very generous, and our food pantry offerings would take a huge hit if they were to discontinue their donations.

    Truthfully, it does sound like a lot of sour grapes. Your CSA subscriptions are down and you blame IP. But then you really try to upset people with the claim that IP is taking food away from food banks. What is the real issue here? Your subscriptions are down? Or that food isn’t going to food banks? My gut and my experience say it’s the former. That stinks, and I wish your customers had been more loyal. But if you are doing such great work, why would your customers be so willing to jump ship? If someone is the kind of person to support a local CSA and food justice programs, why leave for IP? It just doesn’t make sense.

    Obviously, I can’t speak to the situation in California. But for my work here in western Cook County, I’m very grateful for the help we receive from Imperfect Produce.

    • adriana on August 20, 2018 at 5:35 am

      Amanda – that is interesting. My friend volunteers at a food bank here in Seattle and she says there is an incredible amount of waste that happens. They have way more food than is ever claimed by customers at the food bank. As a volunteer, she is able to bring home food and she has more produce than she can use. If there are food banks that are missing out, perhaps there needs to become a cooperative so as to better allocate resources.

      • Amanda Grant on August 20, 2018 at 5:59 pm

        Thanks, Adriana. I’m sure there is an incredible amount of waste. I’d love to see a network or system in place to really get food to where it is needed the most. My pantry is small–we serve 200+ households each month. But each night after distribution, we are out of nearly all produce and I remember times when we actually had to buy it at stores (this is before IP started donating to us) just to have enough for the 40-50 clients that evening. If anyone knows of a cooperative who can track and distribute food efficiently and justly, then please let me know! In the meantime, my pantry is happy to take any and all quality produce that comes our way. 🙂

        • Diana on August 26, 2018 at 10:11 pm

          Hi Amanda – are you familiar with the Means Database? It links food available to donate with recipients and vice versa. The gal who started it was featured in a Starbucks Upstander story last year. I have not used it, but I I have been inspired by it!

    • SeldomSeen on August 23, 2018 at 7:44 pm

      “The article’s main claim that IP is sucking up food that would have otherwise gone to food banks is, in my opinion and as it pertains to my particular area of Cook County (which is where my experience is), complete BS.”

      Yes, there are billion lbs of produce available and they blame IP? On the one hand he says it forces others to up their game but then writes the equivalent of a hit piece and hides behind “we’re not calling for boycott” LOL. Why not up your game and figure out ways to get some of the billions of lbs leftover after IP? But he has no rap for how they plan to do that or a reply to why customers are so willing to jump ship.

      “Imperfect Produce sells a market solution disguised as activism, undermining social justice initiatives”

      Goodness, this is someone who does not know what the concept of social enterprise means.

      As for the dig about jobs created at “below market”. Seems to me that the people have spoken, they apply for those jobs and take them or do you not trust the people? This reminds me of the activism back in the day toward Walmart, don’t want to cape up for Walmart but I pointed out that people were lining up to apply for jobs. The response was something to the effect of education, skills, etc. yes true but in the mean time they need money and some is better than none. So I said, if Walmart closes you’ll be popping your collar but what about those people who lose their jobs and as usual, crickets. As always they cared more about the “victory”, fighting the good fight, than the people. A perfect case for what’s wrong with activism; “Da people” activist claim to care for are nothing more than parable figures.

      As someone who’s worked in the community in this area for years; this reeks of the same ole petty same ole. You’ll have one nonprofit servicing a small area, they can’t service a bigger area but when someone else comes in to take up the slack, they cry foul, never-mind that more people will be served by the addition of another org/company. Soon as I read hyperbolic code word, “gentrification” I pretty much knew what I was getting.

      Here’s the million dollar question: If a social enterprise is able to serve a wider area, get more nutritious healthy food to more people at a reduced cost from grocery store prices, saving millions of produce that would otherwise be discarded, isn’t that a good thing? Seems like, if you were serious about food waste, food insecurity, you wouldn’t be splitting hairs and instead you’d be elated that you could then pivot and focus your competencies to pick up slack and serve another areas of the problem? Change in inevitable, you’re being challenged and there is an opportunity, this small mind stuff.

      • adriana on August 26, 2018 at 11:10 pm

        Nice points, SeldomSeen. I keep returning to see what other people have to say, but all i see is knee-jerk reactions rather than full breadth of thought. We are ‘trained’ to fight for the little guy, but really, while I still think that is the best way, there are times when other factors need to be considered.

  48. Xoxi McCauley on August 20, 2018 at 4:57 pm

    I’m so embarrassed that I didn’t research this company more thoroughly – I should always know if it sounds too good, it probably is!
    Cancelling membership today!
    Thank you!

  49. Cheris on August 20, 2018 at 5:12 pm

    Hello, will canacel my account today! Any thing in Hayward/Union City/Fremont? Thank you for this!

  50. Roselynn on August 20, 2018 at 6:07 pm

    I was under the impression that IP was a non-profit as there are so many in this area (Portland, OR). I looked at IP as a means to reduce waste and personally buy produce at a lower price than the grocery stores. Sometimes it was good and other times it was tasteless or spoiled the day after delivery. While CSAs are great, and I’ve subscribed in the past, they are expensive. I would also venture to say, people probably waste some of this produce too.

    Like some of the other commenters have questioned, I’d like to know if there is room for both types of organizations to exist. I donate, I harvest, I glean, and I support people working and making a living too.

  51. Bekah on August 20, 2018 at 7:05 pm

    Thanks for this article, I’ve also appreciated the responses to the comments people have brought up and look forward to reading more articles in the future as well.

    I have signed up for a CSA box with Phat Beets. I am glad to have this avenue to support small scale farmers of color and youth programming. Thank you so much for everything you all do!

  52. Kai on August 20, 2018 at 9:20 pm

    No offence to your company, I’m sure you do great things, but IP honestly figured out a way to create a more wide spread solution to help more people AND profit off it. I think there is merit to your article (they are in it for profit) however that in itself is not unethical or even a bad thing. If anything as we’ve seen in their explosive growth…it’s made them more accessible and effective at helping their target demographic.

    Those in need.

    The proof is in the profits really. If they weren’t making as big of a positive impact as they claimed their company would have gone belly up by now. but it’s growing. To be honest, I wish more companies were like this, find a way to profit and help us at the same time. Win-win.

    (you yourself also said they donate their surplus, so it seems that the lowest percentile still has resources. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that what it did was create a separate solution for low income vs no income people in need)

  53. Andy on August 21, 2018 at 12:36 am

    I sensed that Ugly Produce had a different origin and purpose when I first encountered their sales agents two years ago on Telegraph Avenue, equipped with tablets, credit card readers, and glossy marketing cards. They weren’t interested in talking to you unless you were ready to sign up then and there for a perpetual subscription, a classic aggressive sales tactic.

    • adriana on August 21, 2018 at 4:22 am

      Andy – I was signed up to a great CSA here in the Seattle region called Full Circle Farm. They have people who go knocking door to door in order to enroll customers. They had tablets, credit card readers and marketing cards. I call that good business thinking. You cannot wait for business to come to you.

      Phat Beets – are you folks using the same approach?

  54. […] capitalism is ugly. From the article: Imperfect Produce sells a market solution disguised as activism, undermining […]

  55. Chris on August 21, 2018 at 3:48 pm

    Hi, PhatBeets.

    Just wanted to give you a heads-up that their website does claim the CA Food Banks use 160,000,000 pounds of produce a year (they may have changed in response to your post). They state that CA sees around 3 billion pounds of waste a year making the point that there’s plenty to go around. It’s a fair point but what I wonder is if CA food banks have had a hard time accessing food. Are they experiencing a shortage? Are the community members who visit food banks getting less food as a result of Imperfect Produce?
    Just trying to get a better picture of what’s going on since I don’t live in CA.


  56. Madeline on August 21, 2018 at 11:36 pm

    I am a student and I have subscribed to Imperfect Produce because it is an easy way for me to get inexpensive fruits and vegetables when the nearest Sprouts and discount produce markets are a 25 minute drive away. I understand that it is an imperfect solution, but it would be great if you could at least address the fact that other CSAs and farmer’s market products are too costly for many people to afford. I just can’t get behind the demonization of a healthy solution for people who can’t afford fair trade organic cotton underwear and $6/basket berries.

  57. Cathy Phillips on August 22, 2018 at 12:12 am

    When you support IP you are actually supporting corporate america. They’ve raised millions of dollars from VC organizations. 23 million before their latest funding in June of an “undisclosed amount” – rumor has it they were looking for another 30 million.

  58. Patty Mundera on August 22, 2018 at 7:38 am

    Gracias, Phat Beets! I appreciate your work to support small local farmers, communities of people of color & low income folks. Thanks for educating us on gentrification & commodification. Will spread the word & look forward to more info!

  59. dave on August 22, 2018 at 2:39 pm

    I am going to assume everything you’re saying is true. If their marketing claims are materially false and intended to mislead consumers, report them to the Federal Trade Commission.

    • Courtney on August 22, 2018 at 9:53 pm

      Oh yes, because we all know the Federal Trade Commission is completely trustworthy. *eye roll*

  60. Mary Pezzuto, Redwood Heights, Oakland on August 23, 2018 at 12:23 am

    We have been subscribers to Imperfect Produce for about a year, and while we did like getting a home delivery that we had the option to modify to our needs, and have an affordable delivery charge ($3/week), we recently halted our orders. The system has changed from Saturday delivery to Monday for our area, and the delivery charge jumped 66% from $3 to $5 per delivery. I sent the company a message about my disappointment at that significant hike. They explained that they got to a point (presumably since enough accounts were happening in our area) to bring the delivery in-house rather than contract it out to a delivery service.
    My argument is that if they have that level of new clientele, the tipping point should be when it’s cost-effective to do so without raising the delivery fee, regardless of whether or not they are paying for benefits for their drivers. I also stated that they should at the very least grandfather existing customers at the original delivery rate, if nothing else. I told them that hiking the rate to $5 incentivised me to support local farmer’s markets instead of supporting their abrupt and unreasonable delivery fee hike.
    I didn’t realize they were so profit-driven that it not only means capitalizing on delivery fees, but also redirecting produce that would ordinarily go to local Food Banks. I’m glad to see this article. Thank you for this really informative update.

    • adriana on August 23, 2018 at 4:35 am

      Mary – If you read above, you will see that they are giving food to food banks. With so much food being wasted, i am not sure that there is any food being diverted away.

  61. Erik Ferry on August 23, 2018 at 7:44 pm

    Imperfect Produce may indeed be getting whole foods that would otherwise get dumped, or go to some other suboptimum fate, to people affordably. That’s good as far as it goes. Maybe Phat Beets could learn a CSA marketing trick or two from this company.

    But that’s the least of it.

    More to the point, the fundamental fact of an unduly-centralized, inherently destructive and exploitative global food system that IP is working with, but not really doing anything to correct, is what organizations like Phat Beets and other real food justice/sovereignty organizations seek to correct.

    Cheaper produce is helpful alright — in a society where decent housing, health care, education, and other fundamentals are spiraling out of reach for more and more Americans.

    A cornerstone of the alternative and critically-needed ‘Green New Deal’ is a food system where economic viability, aka profit, is complemented, and in fact generated by, a locally-oriented, diversified, restorative approach. And where the higher costs which a non-destructive food system is liable to require are countered by an economy that better-supports the vast majority of people who are low- to middle-income. Not progressively squeezing them to glut the megalomaniacs running Monsanto, Sutter Health, PG&E, Wells Fargo, Chevron, and their servants in government.

    Phat Beets and its ilk are bringing this about in Oakland. Imperfect Produce is not.

  62. Weekend Reading 8/24/2018 - Sightline Institute on August 24, 2018 at 12:31 pm

    […] food news, read this before you jump on board the Ugly Produce bandwagon, and maybe think twice about that low-carb […]

  63. Raquel on August 24, 2018 at 9:27 pm

    Is anyone else extremely frustrated with Phat Beets about this article? Or are we all too busy burning down a conveniently placed straw man? Phat beets hasn’t produced any stats or facts of their own here. They just keep tearing down the ones that Imperfect is providing. Nitpicking statistics and shaming a company for trying to feed more people with less waste is just as bad as whatever greenwashing they claim to despise so much. It’s pretty undeniable that Imperfect is making an impact on food waste and until they or any other company are using all of the billions of pounds of food that aren’t getting eaten every year, it’s utterly counterproductive to try to tear them apart for trying to help this food find a home on someone’s table. Why are they so obsessed with fact-less mudslinging? Why is Imperfect the chosen target and not a real villain of the food industry like Bayer/Monsanto, Walmart, or McDonalds?

    Here are some facts for you: In 2017, Feeding America reported that they received over 1.47 billion pounds of produce. As a reference, Imperfect claims to have recovered 30 million pounds of produce to date. Feeding America and the NRDC also reported that over 6 billion pounds of crops go unharvested or unsold every year. This study was based on 7 key crops so the total is likely much higher, but let’s assume its 6 billion to be conservative. This means that even if Imperfect went through 100 times the amount of ugly produce every year that they’ve recovered to date, they would still be using less than half of the available supply. Phat Beets, your math doesn’t add up either and betrays your own biases in attacking Imperfect. Please provide meaningful statistics and facts to back up your argument or everyone will see through your emphatic nourishment of the outrage machine of social media for the reactionary and baseless argument that it is.

    Zooming out, there’s also a huge aspect of this that’s a messed up apples to oranges comparison in my opinion. Imperfect is a business with a social mission related to food waste, not a nonprofit solely focused on ending hunger. It’s great that they are making a difference while also making money but it’s not fair to ask a company to overthrow capitalism. Do you expect Lyft to overthrow the freeway system, or ask the computer that you wrote these words on to end exploitative mining practices that provided the copper for the circuitry? It seems like you’re making the good the enemy of the perfect and in so doing ignoring the reality of the situation which is much more nuanced than you portray it. Isn’t there a way for community CSAs to work alongside companies like Imperfect? It seems to me that these two groups are working towards admirable, but very different goals at different scales and this is actually a good thing. There is plenty of work left to be done and there is clearly more than enough food for both of you to achieve your goals and then some. Save the abstract critique of capitalism for philosophy class, the rest of us live in the real world where we have to make compromises and embrace the grey areas.

    My sources-
    Feeding America report:
    NRDC report:

    • adriana on September 1, 2018 at 9:56 pm

      Nice job, Raquel. I find that in our blind mission to support the little man and deride the big man, we have lost our ability to see the facts rather than the veneer.

    • Phat Beets Produce on September 2, 2018 at 5:25 pm

      “There’s really about six billion pounds of fruits and veggies going to waste every year because of their cosmetic challenges, so our vision is to get as much as possible of that six billion pounds to market.” –

      • Phat Beets Produce on September 2, 2018 at 5:26 pm

        Ben Simon, the cofounder of Imperfect Produce, in his own words on Imperfect working to commodify all the food waste by bringing it to the market place (2015) “There’s really about six billion pounds of fruits and veggies going to waste every year because of their cosmetic challenges, so our vision is to get as much as possible of that six billion pounds to market.” –

        • Raquel on September 21, 2018 at 7:03 pm

          Hey Phat Beets,

          You’re completely missing the point here, which is that food banks don’t currently get most of their produce from farms, they get it from retail and businesses. I’m appalled that no one has bothered to fact check your article so I decided to do some research of my own.

          I have a family friend that works at Feeding America, and when I asked her about this article, she said that it was a ludicrous claim. Of the produce that FA gets, 10% comes from farms, with 85% coming from retail. That is, of the 1.47 billion pounds secured by FA last year, only about 150 million pounds of it came from farms. So while CA’s farm to family program (the one that you cited in your op-ed) is doing great work, and can/should expand, it’s actually the exception to the rule, and is in no way imperiled by companies sourcing ugly produce since there is so much of it, and more importantly because there is an entirely different supply chain of produce that currently goes to food banks. How did you miss this?

          Not only is not only zero evidence that the “ugly produce movement” is threatening this supply, and there is actually evidence that more people can and should be sourcing this produce. Moreover, even if Imperfect, or Hungry Harvest, or Phat Beets produce were to recover half or even 90% of the billions of pounds of produce that go to waste on farms every year, it wouldn’t decrease the amount of produce that food banks receive. If anything, it would increase it, since companies like Imperfect and HH make a point of donating their surplus.

          Why Food First didn’t bother to fact check an op-ed they helped write is beyond confusing and troubling, but I wanted to share this with you. I’m all for having the debate about how/if Imperfect is affecting CSAs like you, but it’s a separate debate entirely from the headline that you ran with (Imperfect takes food from the hungry), which is intellectually dishonest and counterproductive in the long run. If you object to people monetizing food entirely, again, that’s a much bigger debate about capitalism. Imperfect took your sales does not mean that they’re also stealing from food banks. Capitalism being problematic also doesn’t mean that they are taking from food banks.

          So what bothers me, and what others in this thread are calling you out on, is that in your anger you just conflated a bunch of wildly different arguments and threw them out on Facebook, hoping that outraged liberals would take them at face value.

  64. Raquel on August 24, 2018 at 9:40 pm

    For some reason, my NRDC citation did not load into the final comment.
    I’ve provided a link to their thought-provoking and well-researched report below. I highly recommend reading it if you’re interested in food waste and want the facts on the issue. The reality is a lot more complicated and nuanced than what Phat Beets has thrown out there.
    NRDC report:
    I’d also recommend reading the work that ReFED has done:

  65. Raquel on August 24, 2018 at 10:12 pm

    The comments box cut off my NRDC source. Sorry about that. It’s here:
    I’d also recommend reading through some of the great work that ReFED has done:

  66. Ryan on August 24, 2018 at 11:50 pm

    My knee-jerk reaction as I started reading this article was disappointment and a feeling that I’d been conned by Imperfect. I love getting my Imperfect boxes, but I was ready to send an angry cancellation email right then and there. But as I read more and have thought more about it, I’m starting to feel like Phat Beets is the one in the wrong here. I’m a huge fan of Phat Beets (can’t get enough of the kimchi sauerkraut!), but I’m honestly quite disappointed by this unnecessary hatchet job which attacks an ally in this HERCULEAN task of fighting food waste. We know large agribusiness is problematic in many ways, and we know it creates a ton of waste. But the reality is that that is how most of the food in our country is produced. To suggest that Imperfect is hurting not helping is actually beyond ridiculous (feeling very frustrated, sorry!). There are 6 billion pounds of food wasted in the US! I mean, it’s hard to even comprehend… 6 BILLION! Imperfect is not setting up new farms, with pesticides, poverty wages and whatever else… they’re making sure we don’t have to do that in order for people to get more fresh, healthy produce! We are so far from cleaning up the mess of the agricultural-industrial complex, that if there were ten Imperfect Produces in California alone, we’d still have plenty of food wasted, and plenty of food sent to food banks. The math is simple, 3 billion pounds of produce is wasted in California, and 160 million is reclaimed by food banks. That is 5% of the total. I feel like this whole article was instigated by a mistake on Imperfect’s website, where they didn’t get the number of zeroes correct in their reporting of the pounds of produce distributed by California food banks. (I’ve made far worse mistakes on my company’s website, sadly). It appears to be fixed now, and the math is still the math. 5% of the food that California sees wasted every year is reclaimed by food banks and the remaining 95% is still a massive problem that Imperfect is trying to solve. I’m definitely going to keep trying to help them solve it (. . . while popping open another bottle of this sauerkraut obviously).

  67. Jocelyne on August 28, 2018 at 4:30 pm

    Sounds like a lot of wining to me.

  68. […] Phat Beets Produce puts the startup Imperfect Produce “on blast” for their business model. Basically, the author claims that the food wasn’t going un-eaten before their existence, so the business basically reduces supply for food banks. | learn more […]

  69. Jimmy Corn on August 31, 2018 at 4:19 am

    Psssst. Capitalism is the crisis.

  70. Lily on September 3, 2018 at 9:20 pm

    I think that the concerns revolving around the commercialization of waste make more sense than some of you may be recognizing.

    I also live in the “real” world and have to make difficult choices daily based on money, as I suspect do most people responding here.

    I am interested that the main person interviewed in the below article (and one posted above) is a current partner of Imperfect Produce, and has concerns about the direction that their business model may take the culture.

    The issue of food waste is inherently linked to the issue of hungry people. If someone is trying to solve the issue of food waste without thinking about people who need that food, let alone thinking about restructuring the food market to produce less waste in the name of profit (and to use fewer fossil fuels, water, agricultural products, labor, and much more), then that someone is not thinking systemically enough for the challenges that we collectively currently face, let alone the more complicated future we will definitely have given political and social choices of the recent past.

    I really hope that we can get beyond the idea that there is a problem of food waste, to recognize that we have a problem with the way we are organizing our activities as a species as exclusive to other living beings, and often even to our own fellow humans. This exclusivity is likely to only provide one outcome in the bigger picture, and that is deep and widespread human suffering perhaps followed by the extinction of humanity from the planet.

    I am less worried about the extinction than about the suffering. I taught so many great kids to ride bicycles this summer, and I want them to have a future that they can enjoy! I would also like to enjoy the future, but this seems contingent upon many cultures sharply rejecting the current economic structures, not capitulating to them.

  71. on September 11, 2018 at 8:57 am

    Incredible points. Sound arguments. Keep up the great effort.

  72. Olivia on September 14, 2018 at 5:29 am

    Where are your sources? I don’t see any facts cited for this article. Food waste experts seem to disagree with this article as well. Your article seems to be written from your perspective only with no real sources cited. You should be embarrassed for writing such an incomplete article attacking another company that is working to reduce food waste.

  73. Victoria on September 14, 2018 at 6:35 am

    This was disappointing to read, since I have been a supporter Phatbeets for a long time and didn’t think it was the type of organization that would go to such great lengths to trample on a fellow mission-driven group that is also trying to make some positive change in our community. I have partnered with IP personally, to increase accessibility to fresh and affordable produce for majority people of color in the most underserved areas of San Francisco. Week after week I go to the IP warehouse, where I and other volunteers from all over the bay area can go to get boxes and boxes of FREE produce to bring to food insecure communities. Every week I walk by rows of completely edible and hardly “imperfect” (in my eyes) produce stacked taller than me, that is clearly marked “Food Bank”, to protect the supply of food they send to (and DON’T divert from) local food banks. And still there is more completely suitable food to be donated to projects like mine. Furthermore, they open their warehouse and hold free farmer’s markets several days per week to residents of their own local neighborhood, Bayview/Hunter’s Point, which is one of the largest food deserts in San Francisco. Your article conveniently dismisses many of the great things achieved by IP in local communities, and it is a shame to see such a one-sided display of your concerns. How truly disappointing to watch you try to grow taller by stomping on others.

    I would have a lot more respect for this article if it discussed some concrete positive suggestions to improve the IP business model, or described efforts to collaborate with IP in an effort to address some of the criticisms you have. But instead it comes off as resentful and competitive, which is certainly not what I thought Phatbeets was all about. I encourage readers to do some more research before blindly cancelling their IP accounts. And above all, I encourage us all to try to be part of the solution, rather than just grandstanding about the problem.

    • Alexis on September 14, 2018 at 8:43 pm

      So well said, Victoria. Thanks for speaking up for the importance of nuanced, respectful dialog instead of biased hit pieces on social media. Outrage baiting is so overrated.

      Phat Beets, what is your response to this? Are you going to own the fact that your angry rhetoric is misguided and inaccurate or are you going to stick behind your tactics here? It seems that what Victoria has shared here takes the wind out of your sails entirely. She works with a nonprofit that has actively benefited from Imperfect.

      How are they taking food from food banks if the food used to not get harvested at all, and not, in fact, ends up getting sold at a discount to folks that want to buy it and also donated? You’re clearly well versed in being angry on Facebook. I’d invite you to work on being more collaborative and respectful in real life. We’re not going to solve this or any other problem by publicly shaming each other on the internet. I’m sad for you, only because the tone of your message has sadly eclipsed any of its more legitimate content. You can do better. You ought to.

  74. Maureen on September 28, 2018 at 10:18 pm

    Phat Beets, I’m a tad confused by how you selling your products on Good Eggs isn’t also the “green capitalism” you publicly claim to despise so much in this thread and elsewhere. I’m sure you’re aware that they’re a VC-backed food company too, right?

    When is the scandalous op-ed about Good Eggs coming out?

  75. […] two respected Bay Area-based food justice organizations, Phat Beets and Food First, co-authored a blog post that came out swinging. The subject was Imperfect Produce, a San Francisco startup selling boxes of […]

  76. […] two respected Bay Area-based food justice organizations, Phat Beets and Food First, co-authored a blog post that came out swinging. The subject was Imperfect Produce, a San Francisco startup selling boxes of […]

  77. […] two respected Bay Area-based food justice organizations, Phat Beets and Food First, co-authored a blog post that came out swinging. The subject was Imperfect Produce, a San Francisco startup selling boxes of […]

  78. […] two respected Bay Area-based food justice organizations, Phat Beets and Food First, co-authored a blog post that came out swinging. The subject was Imperfect Produce, a San Francisco startup selling boxes of […]

  79. […] suggested we share this recent story written by members of the Phat Beets crew in collaboration with Food […]

  80. Turner Wyatt on October 29, 2018 at 8:39 pm

    Thanks for the article! You said that commodification is not the answer to food waste. Does that mean that low-income people are? It seems like low-income people might not be the best ones to solve this global environmental problem. Especially when rescued food provided through hunger relief agencies tends to be unhealthy (not everyone does as good a job as Phat Beets of providing produce vs. shelf stable food). The low-income people I talk to would rather shop at a grocery store than a food pantry. What would happen if we thought of efficient programs like SNAP as the solution to food insecurity and left the food waste problem to the environmental scientists? Thoughts??

  81. […] suggested we share this recent story written by members of the Phat Beets crew in collaboration with Food […]

  82. […] came two years later, when the founders of the California-based Phat Beets Produce published a blog post detailing their complaints about Imperfect Produce, another ugly produce company based […]

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