I’ve long been a proponent of sustainability for quite some time now, especially after watching Wasted: the Story of Food Waste during a sustainability event during college. In the US, approximately $160 billion worth of produce is thrown away annually, an amount that is ⅓ of all foodstuffs and wasted food is the biggest portion of waste in US landfills according to the EPA. Some of the food waste is due to “imperfect” looking vegetables and fruits that either consumers don’t buy or the grocery stores don’t put out due to the way they look. An article in The Atlantic also calls out “foodie culture” on social media that seeks food perfection as a reason for the exacerbation of food waste.
I kept getting ads for Misfit Market, a Philly-based startup subscription box service that sells “ugly” organic produce that local farms have a surplus of to consumers, on social media and for once, I clicked on it. I was intrigued and the smallest produce box was $19 (not inclusive of shipping fees but shipping for me was under $5) so it wasn’t bad since I’d probably spend that much on produce in a week anyway. They’ve since raised the price of the smallest box to $23 (without shipping fees). The description for the smallest produce box estimates that it contains 10 to 12lbs of organic veggies and fruits.
Misfits Market, Food Deserts and the Larger Sustainability Conversation
Something to think about though: Sustainability is a nice sounding catch-all term for a lot of acts such as using reusable tote bags while shopping (tote bags from publishers are very handy for this), recycling paper/plastic, drinking water from reusable bottles, and more, there’s also a bias associated with the acts depending on socioeconomic status. I was scrolling through Reddit recently on the r/AskReddit thread and one of the questions was, “What is classy when you’re rich and trashy when you’re poor”. Someone wrote being cheap. A lot of sustainability revolves around the idea of maximizing usage out of a product, which inevitably saves money. Thrifting is cool when you’re rich and can afford other companies but it’s lame when it’s all that you can afford.
It brings up a good point about inequality and health disparities . In a January 2019 Vox interview, the CEO of Misfits Market, Abhi Ramesh, is asked about food deserts and low income families. Ramesh says, “I understand how, when you initially think about those interested in reducing food waste, you think about wealthy folks who are privileged, and care about sustainability. But most of our customers are actually families that are cost-conscious, and we’re saving them money on groceries. Some also don’t have access to it currently. There’s about 30 million Americans that live in food deserts, which are urban areas that are a mile away from a supermarket.* A part of our mission is to provide the access of produce to these people. Well, one way we are is by shipping everywhere. You’ll notice that a lot of startups will target wealthy zip codes, or look for urban areas that are super-concentrated with millennials. But we ship to everywhere in the states we’re in, and that’s how we reach a lot of customers who need affordable produce the most. We also have a pilot program in the works that will allow us to accept SNAP payments.”
While I applaud Ramesh for bringing up the idea of food deserts and working on a program that accepts SNAP, I question the authenticity. I’m not a business person so I don’t know how long it takes to setup a program that takes SNAP but as of now, Misfits Market still doesn’t take SNAP. (Another similar subscription box service for organic produce, Imperfect Produce, which does deliver to parts of PA/NJ from what I can tell, does take SNAP benefits.) Food deserts are all over PA and NJ, sometimes in the very communities that ironically have large scale farms. Across the river from Philly is Camden, a community that’s well-known for its crime rate and health disparities, which I have no doubt is tied to being a food desert. During a mandatory health disparity lecture for school, a staff from the Camden area brought up the idea that many Camden residents prefer to shop with cash. Would an online credit card shop really help them (not to mention would they really want a box of produce sitting on their steps until they come home)? Obviously, there are also suburban areas that are food desert areas, too. I would really want to see what percentage of their consumers are in food deserts versus the number millennial customers. However, Misfits Market does say that they work with small and mid-size farms as well as deliver to all zip codes versus other places that deliver to certain zip codes and work with larger farms.
Another thing that I didn’t particularly like was hidden away in the FAQ, third question from the end of a lengthy page, that statement that Misfits Market is launching a regular donation program with two Philly based food banks. While I applaud their desire to give back to the community, without an estimated launch date, this is just an empty statement. It could be anytime this year or in five years. I obviously like the fact that they’re forward thinking (eco-sustainability and social responsibility), which millennials also like but I think there’s a bit of disingenuousness to it all– have concrete statements if you’re going to be socially responsible. There are too many empty statements already in society and there doesn’t need to be more, especially if Misfits Market has something good going for it in the sustainability space.
Philly.com recently covered Misfits Market and their hiring of the formerly incarcerated. Hiring from the communities in which they exist and giving people a second chance is something that I can get behind, especially paying living wages. I think it’s especially important when having these conversations about some of the toughest problems that we’re covering multiple aspects of the problem.
Ultimately, I think Misfits Market is targeted to the millenials who like subscription boxes, want to get into sustainability, and also crave a deal. A huge draw of Misfits Market is the local organic produce that gets diverted away from landfills (not that organic produce is really a major contributor of food waste, anyway). Misfits Market has seen a problem and a solution. I have to applaud them for it, because at the end of the day, they’ve made a business out of a sustainability problem and so far, it seems that they’re doing alright. Their collateral is really snazzy and is well designed, which I’m sure appeals to the millennial crowd. I do like their initiatives like paying living wages to their workers and wanting to start accepting SNAP but I do wish that they’re more transparent about their initiatives and have more concrete numbers.
Something I do wish they did though, was somehow allow customers to give back the ice packs, which are reusable instead of recommending them to be cut open and drained. I receive 2-4 ice packs per order and I honestly get flashbacks to my lab days where I used to unpack reagent orders and stick the freezer packs that they came with into the freezer for later use. I store the cold packs that come with my orders in the freezer but I honestly don’t have much opportunity to use them. The packaging is mostly recyclable and I do like that when the produce comes in bags that they’re in eco-friendly compostable bags.
Thoughts on the Produce
In terms of the produce and my own satisfaction, I will say that there are weeks that I’m not super satisfied as there are times where I’ve gotten produce that are a wilted side of things or the rare vegetable that I don’t really eat (ie. lettuce/artichoke) but for the most part, I feel alright about it. Since you can’t really select what goes into your box, it does make it hard if you’re a picky eater or you want groceries for a meal-prep plan that you have in place already. Imperfect Produce, which I mentioned previously, does allow you to select what fruits/veggies you want (as well as if you want an all fruit or all veggie box) and their price is comparable to that of Misfit Market. I haven’t tried it yet but I probably will sometime.
Personally for me, I still go grocery shopping sometimes, but Misfit Market does help during the weeks where I know I know I’ll be really busy and will cover me for that particular week. It also is legitimately a good deal on eating organic produce on a budget. Since Misfit Market is local to me, I definitely have a way lower carbon footprint using it than that of someone ordering it living in KY or a further state.
If you want a 30% code off your first order for Misfit Market, here’s my referral coder(I’m not sponsored in any way): http://misfitsmarket.refr.cc/byjessicayang